Consumer Research Reports, Science & Technology

What if My Fingerprints Influence Others?

To hunt, move, visit or protect themselves during their history, Man has known how to follow or avoid traces, so why should the digital world be different? It is moreover likely that digital is an amplifier of the phenomenon by the ease of access and its capacity for dissemination. In fact, human beings act as imitators or innovators, reacting for or against the traces left by others.

For Alain Mille, a specialist in artificial intelligence, a trace consists of imprints left voluntarily or not in the environment during a process. Starting from this definition, we can say that the digital trace is a set of digital fingerprints that we leave, knowingly or not, when we access the Internet. It is created when we use services, leave personal information or post comments.

If we leave footprints every time we connect to the net, what mechanisms justify the influence they can have on others? Digital specialist Philip Sheldrake portrays influence as “when you think something you wouldn’t have thought otherwise, or when you do something you wouldn’t have done otherwise”.

Author of “Influence, the psychology of persuasion”, the American social psychologist Robert Cialdini identifies 7 principles that would explain the mechanisms of influence. In this case, they allow us to perfectly illustrate the influence of digital traces.

1. Reciprocity

You have to start by giving to expect to receive back. On digital applications and websites, you are often given free information, tools, services … This strategy involves the user and he feels more inclined to give information about him, to register, to participate. This feeling of debt is powerful and in the context of the information universe, it is even more effective because generally, you will give elements without depriving yourself of them (for example, give your name, your position, your opinion).

Applications like Waze report this reciprocity. A person reports an accident, which prevents you from a pileup, you will feel the obligation to do the same in a similar situation. This trace influenced you, it encouraged you to do the same. This is even the main argument of the application.

2. Commitment and consistency

When a person starts to use a system or an application, he will commit and it is then that the phenomenon will occur: he is self-influenced by a desire to be consistent with what he already has fact. Thus, it leaves traces in a site and according to these, it is proposed to go further. It’s like being told: you’ve already come this far, so why stop?

It is by choosing to use an application or a function and to advance in the proposed stages that you will feel more and more inclined to go further by leaving additional traces. This can go through simple things: buttons like “I agree”, “fill out a form”, “produce my story  ” etc.

3. Social proof

For Cialdini, one of the ways to determine what is good is to find out what other people think is good. The fact of seeing a large number of people consulting the same page, choosing or buying the same product, leads you to be interested in the object. This is what happens when you arrive on a site and you see that more than 4,000 people have given the score of 9/10 on a hotel, you are going to tend to think that it is a good hotel.

4. Authority

It is the notion of identifying the author of the trace that gives weight: the voice of the expert (surgeon, musician, etc.) is influential. But authority can also be provided by the title (doctor, expert, CEO, etc.). For Cialdini, the authority should not be invented but made visible. This is the case, for example, of applications offering a nutritional plan to learn how to eat healthy with the advice of a nutritionist.

5. Sympathy

Our actions can be motivated by the fact of wanting to please the person who shows us affection. The opinions or behaviors of the people you love can influence your choices.

Sympathy as a factor of influence must be taken into account because social networks are a high place of exchange between friends or acquaintances. It is common to do something because the person you like (friend) went to visit a place, or liked ( like ) a concert, an artist, a work of art, and left traces on his Facebook or Instagram page.

6. Rarity

People want and value things when they are or are scarce. The rarity of an offer or a service can be traced on a website (example: there are only 2 rooms left when 3 people consult the same offer). Shortage, or the risk of lack of influence, strongly influence decisions and actions. It is the same in the case of special offers which bring a form of scarcity linked to the time. This can precipitate the purchasing decision.

7. Unity

You are more sensitive to the opinions, ratings or photos left by people who are quite similar to you. The principle of unity makes it possible to say that the influence of a trace depends on a certain “similarity” between the one who leaves the trace and the one who sees it. Cialdini speaks of unity when individuals are classified within the same category: national, professional, shared interests, etc. The opinions of users of a tourist site who share your passions will influence you, through the feeling of identification or belonging to the group.

We draw attention to the influence that our digital daily lives have on our decisions. Take the example of what happens when you are driving using an application like Waze which gives you real-time traffic information. This information is nothing more than traces left by other motorists on the same route. Waze identifies the positions of motorists around you, through the GPS of their smartphones and calculates the indices of travel speed. From all of these digital traces, Waze can indicate a traffic jam. And the system even goes so far as to offer you another route, or another time to travel.

However, there may be “fake traces”: the action of the Berlin artist is a beautiful and funny educational illustration. This artist transported 99 smartphones connected to Google Maps in a cart, with the intention of simulating a virtual traffic jam. So the road turns red on the application, motorists change the route to avoid the traffic jam and in reality, the road has become deserted. He highlighted the weaknesses of the system!

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