When using technology, we are producing different types of data. You have probably often heard of (content) data and meta data.
Meta data could be the facts that
Leon sent an email to Bobby at 05:01pm on Tuesday etc.
Content data would be the actual message
"Hi Bobby, I wondered what your views on the current political situation [...]".
In my current research I am exploring a different type of data: biometrics, describing both behavioural and physical characteristics of individuals. It’s not data we decide to create, but rather data that is us.
Behavioural characteristics describe our movements and habits. It’s not the content, nor the meta information of the things we do, but the way in which we do them.
Physical characteristics describe our physical make-up. It’s not how we describe a person we met to a good friend, but a precise, mathematical representation of our physical appearance.
typing patterns can be analysed when measuring the intervals between every keystroke or the amount of time different buttons are pressed for.
My specific interest is in the biometric data that can be collected from our direct interaction with technology.
Examples are the rhythm in which we use our keyboard, or the patterns that describe our cursor movements. Others could be our habits regarding the positioning of open application windows or even the amount of times we focus our gaze onto the screen vs. stare into the void. Considering mobile platforms, movements become relevant, too, the position in which we like to carry our phone, or the precise way we pick it up before interacting with it. Even the battery usage can be analysed.
Despite considering meta data itself as a different type of data, it is, in my mind, closely related. The time-stamp of a message is the meta data that corresponds to the message’s content, but, in bulk, also describes our usage pattern of the technology or service.
Biometrics are very well suited for the fingerprinting of individuals. By that, I mean the collection of such data over time and the creation of models that describe the characteristics of an individual.
It’s well suited because biometric characteristics do not often change, yet are different for every person. We can not easily change the appearance of our body or the intuitive way in which we do specific things.
Such models can and are used for online (or offline) tracking, therefore limiting our privacy and freedom of expression.
In the next months I want to explore digital fingerprinting on the basis of biometric data. I am planning to implement methods, test their efficiency and resolution in regards to the size of a crowd from which individuals can be identified; I will explore creative applications that aid better understanding of the underlying technologies and ultimately, I want to come up with ways to modulate these types of data to anonymise it, and give back agency to the user of technology.
To start off, I will concentrate only on data that can be collected through our browser or applications.
- great blog post about BIOMETRICS by eff.org