Jul 21,2021 | 5 min read

"Decoding Human Thoughts" By Swati Kumari & Drivya Jain

Humans - the most unpredictable organisms that exist on the planet Earth. Every person is different not by the face but by their thoughts, their behaviour, their actions. Unlike other living beings, it was hard to categorize humans according to specific behavioural patterns. Avoiding eye contact means a person is hiding or lying, shaking legs means a person is nervous, etc were the small behavioural patterns that were easily determinable owing to changes in body language. We are trying to discuss here that the advent of technology has made it possible to tap into the exact thoughts and desires of humans using various means to collect data from their behaviour online etc.

Historian Yuval Noah Harari has predicted at a world economic forum that there will be a time when governments and corporations will be able to gather enough data about citizens around the world that will let them, when combined with computational power, completely predict and manipulate human decisions. This concept of targeting human behaviour for business profits is termed Brain hacking. Brain hacking in simple terms is a method to understand and influence individual minds and decision making at the same time giving more power and governance over lives by collecting and analysing data without any information or approvals. Brain hacking is also referred to as brazen when the goal is to affect the target's behaviour without their knowledge.

Our brain is the data storage of the body, and any person or technology can assault the human brain to extract sensitive information such as data and private information. For example, in a research experiment, different photos were shown to individuals to know how their brains and emotions react to those photos. This Brain hacking has many shades. It can be ethical and unethical. Decoding the thoughts can work wonders for those who are not able to express themselves. Patients in a state of Coma, people who by any means have lost their ability to speak or react. But at the same time, it can be very dangerous when the data is being used to manipulate thoughts and actions. There can be a violation of privacy. Sometimes the data is not restricted to PR companies or marketing agencies, it can also be shared on the dark web which can tarnish the lives of people. “Dark Web” is an encrypted network of websites you can only access using a special secure browser. It isn’t regulated by any government and it is uncensored. The hackers can collect information relating to location, bank accounts, profession, sexuality, etc. There have been instances in the past where children are blackmailed and harassed for their sexuality because of these platforms.                                                           

We live in the data age where data is the new oil and data privacy is just a Myth. The amount of data that flows all around is voluminous. Reportedly, in an interview with CBS News, the former product manager of Google has said that all the tech companies constantly try to engineer the phones, laptops, apps, and social media in such a manner that users are always hooked to them and feel their constant need. Reporting and instances like these clearly indicate we are constantly being monitored, and are put under their surveillance where they can be a dedicated individual or team of individual(s) whose job is to collect and analyse our data and handle it as per their own convenience, and implicit purposes. These days electronic devices are used to perform an enormous variety of tasks ranging from calls to trading, banking, event planning, meetings, entertainment, gaming, etc. It is absurd to think that no one is seeing us as in contrast we are being monitored. 

Do you think that being on Social media makes you free from real-world chaos?
If studies are to be believed, an average human spends almost 150 minutes on the internet daily especially the social media apps. There has been an increase in the security threats to computing. The data which we put on these sites are being used by actors for nefarious purposes such as banking fraud, criminal theft, identity theft, data manipulation, in short, making room for cybercrime. Nowadays all the devices are interlinked through the accounts created on Google, Apple store, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Download an app and link it with your Gmail account, all your information will be auto-filled. This seems a hassle-free activity to the users however what one did not understand is by linking our accounts we are consenting to personal (sensitive) data sharing implicitly. 

Have you ever wondered, Why is the content searched on one platform being recommended or suggested on another one? It is largely because they have collected your browsing history and online activities by tracking by storing small text files automatically in your devices that are being used and are not necessarily in your best interest.                                                          

Wondering still? Is it possible that technology can allow anyone or hackers to penetrate our minds or to hack brains, after all, the brain is not a computer that can be hacked, it is an organ? The answer is YES, despite being the strongest organ, it is the most vulnerable one. A single event can leave an imperishable mark on us. Social media has become a great part of our life. Every minute events of our lives are being shared on these social media online platforms by us and it cannot be trusted. The information we provide to these platforms in one form or the other is shared with product companies or governments sometimes or is being used to manipulate us in various ways. In the famous controversy of Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg was alleged to leak the data of 10 million users to Cambridge Analytica, which has helped run President Donald Trump's political campaign. These firms have used the data to understand the voting tendencies of the voters and carve out the strategies that can manipulate the voting behaviour. Therefore it is very important to prevent our thoughts from being hijacked or surveillance. To do that, the primary requirement is to enable the data protection laws in full force. It should be made mandatory for the platform to first make its users understand what they are giving consent for and how their data will be used. Companies should be penalized for violating the right to privacy of individuals directly or indirectly.

According to Marcello Inca, a neuroethics student at the University of Basel, and Roberto Andorno- these and other breakthroughs in neurotechnology pose new challenges to privacy and personal freedom. They have proposed four new human rights to preserve the human mind and their privacy which are mental privacy, integrity, and liberty.

Technology might have created an environment where we can express our thoughts freely, showcase our talent, it has also created an invisible wall between us and the real world. Stealing human thoughts or manipulating them is not a crime against one particular person but against society. The principles of natural justice are being violated by this. We need such laws where we can thrive freely and still remain to be secure and protected. Gone are the days where one could escape the liability on the contention that burden was on users, now the burden is to be re-shifted to the companies collecting and storing our data.

Owing to the increasing nexus between technology and neuroscience an immediate need was felt to have a law that can prevent and protect the neural data of the individuals. General Data Protection Regulation of Europe is one such law that accords protection to the personal data of individuals. Unfortunately, it does not specifically talk about neural data. On the lines of GDPR, India keeping the interest of its citizens and nation to develop a detailed governance mechanism proposed a Data Protection Bill to protect personal data and privacy, to create and promote a fair digital economy through data governance and inclusion.

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