“In the near future, companies, hell even the NSA, could be mining our brainwaves for data. It’s bad enough the private details about our lives that are revealed in hoovered up emails and phone calls; imagine if Big Brother was literally reading our minds? That’s some dystopian shit.
We’re heading in that direction. Brainwave-tracking is becoming increasingly common in the consumer market, with the gaming industry at the forefront of the trend. “Neurogames” use brain-computer interfaces and electroencephalographic (EEG) gadgets like the Emotiv headset to read brain signals and map them to in-game actions, basically giving the player virtual psychic superpowers.
Now there’s a fear that we’re not doing enough to protect our raw thoughts from getting hacked with “brain spyware” or being tracked and gathered like the rest of our personal data. The concern was raised last month at the 2014 Neurogaming Conference in San Francisco, NPR reported.
“We may wake up in a few years and say, ‘Oh, we should have done something. We should have thought about the privacy of this data,’” Arek Stopczynski, a neuroinformatics researcher at MIT told me in an interview.
IT’S POSSIBLE TO GLEAN PRIVATE INFORMATION LIKE PIN NUMBERS, CREDIT CARDS, ADDRESSES, AND BIRTHDAYS “LEAKED” FROM BRAIN SIGNALS.
EEG data is extremely rich, or “high-dimensional,” meaning a single signal can reveal a lot of information about you: if you have a mental illness, are prone to addiction, your emotions, mood, and taste.
Raw brainwave data uploaded to a server for gaming purposes could also be tapped to get a detailed read-out of your psyche. It’s possible to glean private information like PIN numbers, credit cards, addresses, and birthdays “leaked” from brain signals, as researchers demonstrated in a 2013 paper on the privacy and security implications of brain-controlled consumer products.
And unlike your Facebook profile, EGG data is a unique biometric identifier, like a fingerprint. Researchers have demonstrated they can identify people based on their EEG data with an 80-100 percent accuracy rate.
The greatest potential danger when it comes to brainwave data privacy, Stopczynski argued, is the possibility of linking EEG databases to other databases with information about finances or location. “If we don’t do something about it or start talking about it, we will end up with this big dataset of personal EEG data that no one will have proper control over,” he said.
If, let’s just say the NSA, began collecting brain data, they could theoretically match it with other datasets culled from online data mining to create a complete profile of an individual that goes far beyond what they divulge through posts and messages alone.
How can we stop this kind of invasive mining of our minds? The simple answer is that brainwaves can be protected just like any other personal data.