Surveillance based Persuasion: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Sanju Ahuja, Jyoti Kumar


Surveillance-based persuasive technologies have become ubiquitous in the form of fitness trackers, advertisement engines, recommendation systems and birthday reminder applications. They are also being integrated into socio-economic systems such as insurance, health and education. In reported literature, surveillance has raised significant ethical concerns about privacy and persuasive intentions of technology have come under scrutiny for undermining human autonomy. This paper discusses the ethical implications of persuasive technologies from the perspective of human autonomy and freedom. It begins by acknowledging the reported and possible future advantages of surveillance-based persuasive technologies, with an emphasis on the conditions which make them beneficial (the good). It then discusses the ethical trade-offs involved and the problems with how those trade-offs are designed and implemented in technology (the bad). Lastly, the paper discusses severe ethical concerns which involve coercion or manipulation of users into being persuaded for economic or even paternalistic needs of the technology (the ugly). This paper has argued for designers and businesses to employ an ethical approach to persuasive technology design and has presented possible suggestions for such an approach. These suggestions can help design technologies in a manner more conducive to autonomous decision making and freedom of choice for the users.


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