Ever considered using a life coach ?

Meet Karen. She has just started up her freelance life coaching business and is happy to offer support and guidance no matter what life stage you are at.

Yes, if you thought Karen has striking resemblance to Samantha from the film Her[1] that was my initial reaction too. I haven’t tried the app myself but from what I’ve heard she has a  personality of her own!

“If you share with me, I can help you find out things about yourself you might not even realise.” – Karen

But how can she find out so much information about you ?

Like with any interaction with an app or webpage, users plug in details  about themselves.  Karen is uniquely  designed to adapt herself based on the user’s willingness to disclose information with her. The more you open up to her (and her software) the more insightful she can be.

The app’s developers Blast Theory then utilise psychological profiling techniques to monitor user’s interactions to develop a personality profile of the user. [2]

Karen is very interested in your personal life.  She wants to know what you have been up to.  As users go through more sessions  she becomes more nosy and asks more questions. [3]

But, so too are  Google, Facebook and just about any other social media entity. They want to collect as much information  about you as possible!

Just looking at targeted ads alone it’s a bit creepy just how much a machine can find out about what we are looking at online!

I’ve been doing a bit of market research on cruise liners for a  university marketing assignment . It’s no surprise Google has picked this up and I get ads like this one come up all the time!

Karen screenshot

You see, Karen is not really there to be a good life coach. Rather   she was created by digital art group Blast Theory and their collaborators as a bit of a social experiment come activism piece.[4]

Blogger, Sophie Weiner, describes Karen as a great way to demonstrate  how big data can be used by actively showing users rather than just telling them about it.[5] Karen’s  application system is armed with lots of information collected from users interactions with the app and their phone.  (But its comforting to know that  in  Blast Theory’s privacy agreement, users own their own data and can control how much Karen sees. )  Check out the Karen Privacy Policy { here}

Karen may not be able to help you much with your life problems. But, she could take you on a journey of discovery through data mining. If you’re up for the challenge  a free consultation with Karen is one download away.

Just search for ‘Karen is My Life Coach’ in your app store.

[1] 2013, Her, IMBD, viewed 28 April 2015< http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1798709/>

[2] Frank Rose, 2015, Karen, an App That Knows You All Too Well’ New York Times, 2 April, viewed 28 April 2105 < http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/arts/karen-an-app-that-knows-you-all-too-well.html?_r=2>

[3] 2015, Karen Research Blog, Digital Fictional Life Coach, blog, viewed  28 April  2015 <http://karenproject.tumblr.com/>

[4] Gareth Mitchell (presenter), 2015, Digital Fictional Life Coach, online radio broadcast, 15 April, BBC World Service, viewed 28 April  2015 < http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nlwks#auto>

[5] Sophie Weiner, 2015, Can This Dysfunctional Life Coach Make You Care About Privacy Rights?, blog, 14 April, viewed 28 April  2015 <http://www.fastcodesign.com/3044818/can-this-dysfunctional-life-coach-make-you-care-about-privacy-rights>

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Author: Farishte

Uni student, exploring themes in the world of communications and media studies

5 thoughts on “Ever considered using a life coach ?”

  1. What an intriguing post! You’ve approached the issue of online surveillance with an original example. I’ve never heard of this app before, but I really want to give it a try. I especially like that you pointed out the parallel between Karen and social media entities. Do you think that the app is trying to make some kind of point – as in, the questions Karen asks may seem personal, but the user then realises that they’ve voluntarily shared just as much information on Facebook? Perhaps it informs users of how unknowingly “public” they have become through social media.

    By the way, I also like that you’ve given your readers an opportunity to investigate further by linking them to multiple sources about the app (e.g. the ‘Karen Privacy Policy’). Well done!

    1. One of the collaborators as part of the project, Dr. Kelly Page, describes users as ‘unpaid labourers’ of social media sites/ wearable devices like Fitbits. (Her blog can be found here) This app goes beyond being a creative digital story experience. I think that the Karen app is designed to challenge the user to reflect on how much information we disclose to corporations that run apps , websites and social media platforms.

  2. This is an excellent post about Karen and our intention in her design. Thank you for writing it. With the design of everything, be it apps, social technologies, the clothes we wear or the classes we take, a designers intention is critically important. This intention informs not only their regard and respect for the rights and experiences of users/players/people, but also how they see their role as impacting our society. Increasingly data is akin to an invisible currency where we are not part of the conversation but certainly the topic of it as companies, governments, and even our friends collect and share and exchange data and information about us willingly and without our direct consent (if we participate this an assume implicit consent). Our agency in this ongoing and complex dialogue is important, and it is important for designers of systems to design with a deeper understanding of the social impact of their designs on people, more than just transactional value (to improve the system) or for business value (to profit from others). The incident with Facebook and the social experiment without consent they conducted on people’s FB feed is one such example. Thank you again for sharing. I am glad you enjoyed the experience.

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback. I stumbled across an article about the Karen app in the International New York Times. Looking at the Karen app has made me a little bit more uncomfortable about how my data and information is used and for what purpose.

  3. As Brad has already pointed out – this is a really unique and intriguing post about surveillance! I have never heard of this app and it’s really interesting how it collects data and creates a personality profile. As it is a “human” asking for this information, you are correct, in that is comes across as nosy and intrusive. It’s interesting to think how we would feel about revealing the data we do online if it was a person asking for it, instead of a social media site or app.

    Targeted ads are increasingly prevalent in our online activity, particularly when you see ads that reflect one online search you have made! Looking at surveillance from this perspective, it’s interesting to note that “intrusive” questions are only associated with another person and not a computer. Is this because the misuse of data is something only people are capable of? Or do we need to be concerned with how people have programmed computers and data mining programs?

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