Developer42

2009-11-08

Psychic Site

Filed under: Ideas, Psychology, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Developer42 @ 16:35

One of the many projects I have queued up to code one day is a psychic site. This isn’t going to be any weird paranormal thing, or a way of ripping people off, but a way of showing what’s possible. The idea is to create a site, where a user fills in a few details, then the site does a cold reading. However, rather than just using the information provided, the site’s able to use information the person didn’t know they were giving to make it appear to be doing the impossible. Useful tools to aid with this are linked below:

Gender Genie. This shows how the language a person uses gives some indication as to their gender.
Polite Software’s Web Spy. This is a security flaw I discovered a while back, which it seems many geeks have worked out for themselves, but is still not that well known. Since you can tell a visited link from an active link by taking advantage of the different CSS style, and reading this using javascript, you can tell which popular sites a person’s been to. You can then use this information to build up a profile of the person, based on the sites and their demographics (e.g. someone who visits facebook is likely to be under 30, whilst someone going to the bbc news site is likely to be over 20).
HTML 5 GEO. HTML 5 introduces an amazing feature; your standard web browser is able to tell your location without requiring GPS. This is done by using GPS where available, your wireless network card to detect signals from various mobile phone masts, then using the strength of each of these signals along with signal strength maps to triangulate your location, your IP address to find the location of your ISP and various other methods. More on how this works can be found here W3 Geo Spec. Getting hold of this info is slightly less covert, as browser security will prompt the user to allow their location to be sent, but this small snippet of information can tell you much more. Once you know someone’s location, you can assume it’s their home, business, or school, since these are the most likely places from which someone will be accessing the net. You can then use data about these places to work out who someone works for, or how much their income’s likely to be (based on where they can afford to live), giving an idea of that person’s status in society. For an idea of what info you can get from someone’s address, UK residents may like to try putting their postcode into this site: Home Check.
You can then wrap all this data in with a few cold reading general comments (there’s a great example in Derren Brown’s
Tricks of the Mind, of a few paragraphs which describe almost anyone between 20 and 40, but sound as if they’re aimed directly at the reader) to make the few bits of real data you’ve gathered have more impact.

Other potential sources of info.
PIPL. Search for people.
192. Another person search tool
Facebook. Details on how to read data from people’s facebook accounts (with their permission!).
Google Dashboard. Everything Google knows about you (if you have a google account).
What’s My IP. Details glean-able from your IP address.
. Information on what web browser you use (safari people are artistic, chrome are techie purists, opera like elegance, firefox like functionality, and IE people follow the status quo).
How long is a piece of string?. A book with a few examples of ways in which people have been conned by not understanding statistics. Slightly off topic, but an interesting read (my favourite is the football score predictor that gets the result right every time).

When you find out how much it’s possible to find out about yourself, you may get scared. However, most of this information is harmless for people to find out, and the stuff that isn’t you have protection from (privacy settings in applications such as Facebook, prompts before allowing features such as HTML5’s Geo). These features can be put to good use, for example by having a site which changes it’s style to match the user’s likely tastes, and to bring more relevant content to the front (such as Google searches bringing up local restaurants when you look for somewhere to eat).

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