Companies can identify you from your music preferences, as well as influence and profit from your behavior.
- New research discovered that you can be identified from just three song choices.
- This type of information can be exploited by streaming services through targeted advertising.
- The researchers are calling for musical preference to be considered in regulations regarding online privacy.
While the focus on music piracy dominated the media for years, an equally important (and far less discussed) phenomenon occurred during the transition from broadcast radio to streaming. People were no longer beholden to the gatekeepers known as DJs. Today, listeners have the entire history of music at their fingertips. Each person is now their own DJ.
If it's free, you are the product
Though this might appear empowering, every advancement comes at a cost. Because listeners changed how they consumed music (namely, from radio broadcasts to personalized online streams), companies had to change their monetization strategy. Now, you are the product.
When you curate a playlist, you are inadvertently sending tons of data to different companies, with Spotify, YouTube, and Apple Music leading the way. As it turns out, according to a new study from Israeli researchers — Ariel University's Dr. Ron Hirschprung and Tel Aviv University's Dr. Ori Leshman — your musical tastes reveal more about your personality than you likely ever imagined.
Musical selection is a quasi-identifier
There are different ways in which you can be identified. Identifiers, such as your social security number, are highly specific and unique to you. But then there are quasi-identifiers — things like age, gender, and occupation — that can also give away your identity. The authors claim that musical selection is a quasi-identifier, and they argue that, as with other forms of sensitive data, our playlists should be considered when constructing privacy laws.
In their paper, they write, "[T]he combination of Big-Data, together with the availability of computational power — which is notoriously known for its potential of privacy violation — introduces a privacy threat from an unexpected angle: listening to music."
To prove their point, the researchers divided undergraduate students into four groups with roughly 35 volunteers in each. Every member submitted three songs from their playlist of favorite tracks. Then, the researchers picked five members at random in each group, and the remaining volunteers were asked to vote to determine if they could match the members with their playlists.
Photo: cherryandbees / Adobe Stock
Even to the surprise of the researchers, the participants were right between 80 percent and 100 percent of the time. Incredibly, these students did not know one another well and were not aware in advance of anyone's musical preferences.
There are many outward signs that mark us in the eyes of others: what we wear, what we eat, how we style our hair, our mannerisms and posture, and even where we stand at parties. Other people pick up on these subtle clues, which in turn allows them to predict our personalities. In this study, the volunteers were able to identify the musical preferences of strangers simply by observing their outward appearances.
Of course, companies notice similar things and are able to exploit what they learn about us. In a press release, the authors stated:
"Music can become a form of characterization, and even an identifier. It provides commercial companies like Google and Spotify with additional and more in-depth information about us as users of these platforms. In the digital world we live in today, these findings have far-reaching implications on privacy violations, especially since information about people can be inferred from a completely unexpected source, which is therefore lacking in protection against such violations."Musical preference isn't the only way in which you can be identified online. For instance, your browsing history can give away your identity. Listening to your favorite tunes while searching Google for a new recipe isn't as innocuous as you might think.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
A new study finds that dogs fed fresh human-grade food don't need to eat—or do their business—as much.
- Most dogs eat a diet that's primarily kibble.
- When fed a fresh-food diet, however, they don't need to consume as much.
- Dogs on fresh-food diets have healthier gut biomes.
You know the drill. You're having dinner when suddenly a black nose appears under the table between your legs. You tilt back and there are those eyes. Those eyes. If you're a savvy dog owner, you resist sliding down there — eating from the table is a bad habit you don't want to encourage. Plus, this is your food. It's people food. We don't eat animal food. Dogs have their own food, specially formulated for their dietary needs. Right?
Well, maybe not. A new study from researchers at the University of Illinois (U of I) finds that not only is human-grade food digestible for dogs, but it's actually more digestible than much dog food. The proof is in the pooing.
The study is an accepted manuscript for the peer-reviewed Oxford Academic Journal of Animal Science.
Four diets were tested
Credit: AntonioDiaz/Adobe Stock
The researchers tested refrigerated and fresh human-grade foods against kibble, the food most dogs live on. The ingredients of kibble are mashed into a dough and then extruded, forced through a die of some kind into the desired shape — think a pasta maker. The resulting pellets are sprayed with additional flavor and color.
For four weeks, researchers fed 12 beagles one of four diets:
- a extruded diet — Blue Buffalo Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe
- a fresh refrigerated diet — Freshpet Roasted Meals Tender Chicken Recipe
- a fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Beef & Russet Potato Recipe
- another fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Chicken & White Rice Recipe.
The two fresh diets contained minimally processed beef, chicken, broccoli, rice, carrots, and various food chunks in a canine casserole of sorts.
(One can't help but think how hard it would be to get finicky cats to test new diets. As if.)
Senior author Kelly S. Swanson of U of I's Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences, was a bit surprised at how much better dogs did on people food than even refrigerated dog chow. "Based on past research we've conducted I'm not surprised with the results when feeding human-grade compared to an extruded dry diet," he says, adding, "However, I did not expect to see how well the human-grade fresh food performed, even compared to a fresh commercial processed brand."
Tracking the effect of each diet
Credit: Patryk Kosmider/Adobe Stock
The researchers tracked the dogs' weights and analyzed the microbiota in their fecal matter.
It turned out that the dogs on kibble had to eat more to maintain their body weight. This resulted in their producing 1.5 to 2.9 times the amount of poop produced by dogs on the fresh diets.
Says Swanson, "This is consistent with a 2019 National Institute of Health study in humans that found people eating a fresh whole food diet consumed on average 500 less calories per day, and reported being more satisfied, than people eating a more processed diet."
Maybe even more interesting was the effect of fresh food on the gut biome. Though there remains much we don't yet know about microbiota, it was nonetheless the case that the microbial communities found in fresh-food poo was different.
"Because a healthy gut means a healthy mutt," says Swanson, "fecal microbial and metabolite profiles are important readouts of diet assessment. As we have shown in previous studies, the fecal microbial communities of healthy dogs fed fresh diets were different than those fed kibble. These unique microbial profiles were likely due to differences in diet processing, ingredient source, and the concentration and type of dietary fibers, proteins, and fats that are known to influence what is digested by the dog and what reaches the colon for fermentation."
How did kibble take over canine diets?
Historically, dogs ate scraps left over by humans. It has only been since 1870, with the arrival of the luxe Spratt's Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes—made from "the dried unsalted gelatinous parts of Prairie Beef", mmm—that commercial dog food began to take hold. Dog bone-shaped biscuits first appeared in 1907. Ken-L Ration dates from 1922. Kibble was first extruded in 1956. Pet food had become a great way to turn human-food waste into profit.
Commercial dog food became the norm for most household canines only after a massive marketing campaign led by a group of dog-food industry lobbyists called the Pet Food Institute in 1964. Over time, for most households, dog food was what dogs ate — what else? Human food? These days more than half of U.S. dogs are overweight or obese, and certainly their diet is a factor.
We're not so special among animals after all. If something's healthy for us to eat—we're not looking at you, chocolate—maybe we should remember to share with our canine compatriots. Not from the table, though.
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Humans are woefully unaware of their olfactory sense. That's the reality we've been sold.
- Scent provides valuable information about personality traits and attractiveness.
- Since the 1920s, companies have made us anxious about our odor in order to sell us their products.
- Our disdain of personal smell is related to our fear of aging and death.
With so many of our regular habits upended over the past six weeks, I held an informal poll on my social media channels asking who had quit wearing deodorant. As you can imagine, responses were varied. Some people include deodorant along with make-up as part of the "stay sane by keeping to your routine" routine. Others admitted they haven't showered in days. A few people stopped and then started because they offended themselves. Of course, living with others requires a different set of responsibilities.
While this might strike some as an odd question, deodorizing is a relatively new phenomenon. Cultures have long had various cleansing rituals, yet often they only dealt with parts of the body viewable outside of their clothing. Myths long persisted about the validity of soap. In fact, it was believed that cleaning your skin led to disease.
Religions often seek to differentiate themselves from the pack. Whereas ritualistic cleaning has long been part of Judaism and Islam, early Christians strove for alousia, "the state of being unwashed," writes Canadian author Katherine Ashenburg in "The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History." Calling someone of another race, religion, or caste "dirty" is an insult. For many centuries, this was particularly true of Christians—a goal, not a bad habit.
Ashenburg's book has been in my wife's library for years. She only recently read it as the hand washing furor began, prompting me to follow suit. While the hands and sometimes face (though not teeth—Americans still reign in super-white enamel) have long been washed, Ashenburg notes that medieval Christians believed that "blocked pores…sealed the body off from infection." Beyond baptism, many never bathed once in their entire lifetimes.
While Ashenburg's book is filled with historical factoids—Napoleon implored Josephine not to wash for a day before his return so he could drink in her scent—in the last two chapters she focuses on the flip side of cleanliness: how marketing has made us mad about purity.
Dr. Stuart Firestein: The Limits of Our Sense of Smell
Ashenburg's book begins in the Roman bathhouses. She traces cleanliness rituals throughout time in that context. With the introduction of germ theory, it slowly dawned on Europeans and Americans—while the book is global, she mostly focuses on these geographical regions—that blocked pores were not doing much good in keeping disease away. As the Age of Industry commenced, workers packed into warehouses and on shipping docks began noticing their co-workers' scents. A new industry was born.
Two, in fact. As Ashenburg writes, "toilet soap and advertising grew up together." Both had long existed, but with the introduction of germ theory into the popular vernacular, these strange bedfellows united. The race to sell began. As everyone now knows, if you can corner a new market, you'll make bank.
Such was the case when Lambert Pharmaceutical's president, Gerald Lambert, picked out "halitosis" from his chemists' list. He wanted to aggressively market one of his company's oral antiseptics. For the next five years, Listerine's ads were devoted to defining halitosis, telling prospective customers that failed job offers and divorce are due to bad breath. The ploy worked. In 1921, Listerine brought in $115,000 in sales. Seven years later it topped $8 million.
Around the same time, a copywriter named James Webb pumped out ads for his employer, J. Walter Thompson, claiming that women's armpits stunk. He lost a lot of dates. Yet within a year of that campaign, his client, Odorono—say it aloud—watched their profits increase by 112 percent. As Ashenburg writes,
"The success of the Odorono ad and the deluge of deodorant advertisements that followed say much about the decade's willingness to broach taboo subjects and its growing intolerance of secretions and smells."
Associate Brand Director of P&G's Secret Deodorant Sara Saunders speaks onstage during The 2020 MAKERS Conference on February 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for MAKERS
By 1932, the American author, Sophia Hadida, made a big splash with her book on manners. She coined a new term, Body Odor, which has been embraced as B.O. ever since. An entire market opened up for deodorants, soaps, perfumes, and men's and women's grooming products, all designed to maximize profit thanks to our growing anxiety.
Which is why I asked that question on social media. Among animals, humans have a woefully poor sense of smell. As bipeds, we began relying on sight and touch while neglecting our olfactory skills. As such, we've evolved with 20 million smell receptors. Not bad, until you consider that your dog has 11 times that number. Smell still guides our life in many ways, including the lovers we choose and the business partners we trust.
This is a different sensibility than the marketing blitz that began a century ago. Smell informs. Disguising or erasing your scent does the opposite. Thanks to the anxiety peddled by companies pushing their products, we've decided it's better to remain ignorant. With that, we've lost a lot of data about our world.
Aging is one particularly problematic smell to some. Researchers have long worked on ridding us of this burden. Yet aging shouldn't be seen as a burden. In fact, the insane idea that sacrificing our eldest for the sake of the economy is good stems from a longtime existential distress regarding aging and death. Our smell changes as we age, sure, which is called biology. It's useful information, such as assessing personality traits and detecting immune system capabilities.
While everyone smells, women have been especially affected by this marketing phenomenon. Women generally have a better olfactory sense than men, but that comes at a cost. For example, Ashenburg writes that the sexual revolution of the sixties was especially confusing thanks to an advertising rush of feminine hygiene products.
"Sex is natural and wonderful, but the 'natural you' needs to be sprayed to be wonderful. Sex is natural and wonderful, but it leaves a woman in urgent need of washing, powdering, spraying, and douching. Sex is natural and wonderful, but it means that you can be rejected on the most intimate level."
There is no easy response to this dilemma. Sitting next to someone of a particular odor on a plane is not enjoyable. Social mores still matter. But we have to wonder why we cover up or disguise our scent so often. It provides valuable information, but more importantly, it's who we are.
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