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Emotion Detection, Personalisation and Autonomous Decision-Making Online

A public lecture by Damian Clifford (KU Leuven Centre for IT and IP Law / Information Law and Policy Centre, University of London) at The University of Western Australia

Image: Visage Technologies Face Tracking and Analysis, Wikipedia Commons.

Date: Monday 15 April 2019
Time: 2–3pm
Venue: Ashburton Room, Ground Floor, Forrest Hall, The University of Western Australia (cnr Mounts Bay Road and Hackett Drive, Crawley, on the river side)
Enquiries: A/Professor Julia Powles (julia.powles@uwa.edu.au) or A/Professor Kathryn Prince (kathryn.prince@uwa.edu.au)

Emotions play a key role in decision making. Technological advancements are now rendering emotions detectable in real-time. Building on the granular insights provided by big data, such technological developments allow commercial entities to move beyond the targeting of behaviour in advertisements to the personalisation of services, interfaces and the other consumer-facing interactions, based on personal preferences, biases and emotion insights gleaned from the tracking of online activity and profiling and the emergence of ‘empathic media’. Although emotion measurement is far from a new phenomenon, technological developments are increasing the capacity to monetise emotions. From the analysis of inter alia facial expressions, voice/sound patterns, to text and data mining and the use of smart devices to detect emotions, such techniques are becoming mainstream. Despite the fact there are many applications of such technologies which pursue goals that are morally above reproach (e.g. healthcare or road safety) their use for advertising and marketing purposes raises clear concerns in terms of the rationality-based paradigm inherent to consumer protections and thus the autonomous decision-making capacity of individuals. Indeed, one must question the effects of combining such means of personalisation with consumer-facing interactions that are driven by emotion insights and how their wide scale adoption would be affected by (and indeed affect) the law. This seminar will therefore examine the emergence of such technologies in an online context vis-à-vis their use for commercial advertising and marketing purposes and the challenges they present for EU data protection and consumer protection law. The analysis will rely on a descriptive and evaluative analysis of the relevant frameworks and aims to provide normative insights into the potential legal challenges presented by emotion commercialisation online. 

Damian Clifford is a doctoral researcher funded by Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek – Vlaanderen (FWO) at the KU Leuven Centre for IT & IP law, an associate researcher at Information Law and Policy Centre at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (University of London), and has previously held a visiting lecturer position at the Dickson Poon School of Law, Kings College London (2018-2019). Upon joining CiTiP Damian worked on FP7 and Horizon 2020 projects in the fields of inter alia Critical Infrastructure Protection, Public Sector Information re-use and Cloud Computing. During this period Damian split his time between institutions by also working for the University of Antwerp. From 1 October 2015 Damian has been focused on his doctoral research as an FWO fellow. His PhD is entitled ‘The Legal limits to the monetisation of online emotions’ and examines the legal issues surrounding the monetisation of online behaviour and emotions and the nudging or manipulation of internet users. Damian has published in various international journals and has presented at several international conferences with his work recently cited by Advocate General Maciej Szpunar in his opinion in the Planet 49 Case (Court of Justice of the European Union, Case C‑673/17). He has won best researcher paper awards at the BILETA annual conference 2016 with his colleague Valerie Verdoodt and also won the Computer Law and Security Review Best Researcher Paper Award at the 2014 LSPI Conference for a paper he wrote with his colleague Yung Shin Van Der Sype. Damian is currently a visiting scholar at The University of Melbourne School of Law.

This event is presented by the Technology and the Public Interest research group, Law School, The University of Western Australia and the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.