Mobile World Congress causes new privacy concerns

11th March 2013

In the past week fascinating new technology was revealed at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The Telefónica research team generated a particular amount of interest and concern with the unveiling of their new Linguistics Analysis Engine, a project designed to interpret personality data from telephone conversations. The company spokesperson states that the team of engineers and psychologists were able to construct personality traits with an 80% accuracy rate.

Currently the project has only used internal volunteers however researchers have been quick to raise concerns about the potential interest such data could hold to advertisers. Eden Zoller, an analyst at the research firm Ovum was quoted stating that “This level of insight would clearly be of interest to advertisers and organisations in sectors such as tourism”. It is easy to see how a personality profile could be used to generate tailored advertisements and generate considerable privacy concerns. Commentators have likened the project to the problems generated by Facebook’s graph search.

The project was designed to allow consumers to learn more about their own personalities, for example whether they have the communication style of an extrovert or introvert. In defence of the project Telefónica noted that the technology doesn’t analyse the content of a conversation, rather it monitors the tone of voice and communication style. Furthermore it has been stated that this sort of project could only work in practice as an opt in system.

The unveiling and subsequent reaction to this project is indicative of wider privacy concerns facing the modern consumer today. As technology prowess grows so does the potential for misuse, either purposely or by oversight. New technology should be welcomed, particularly at this impressive level of ingenuity however it is important that it is viewed with a healthy level of concern for the public.


Phil Sinkinson