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Boffins learn to send boredom-beating suggestions to smartphone-fondlers

What fresh hell is this?

Your smartphone will become even more of a pest, if researchers from Telefonica and the University of Stuttgart have their way: they want to detect when you're bored, and get the phone to push content at you.

The group of researchers – their paper is here ahead of its upcoming presentation at UbiComp in Japan next week – write: “if mobile phones are able to detect when their users are killing time, i.e. when attention is not scarce, then they could suggest a better use of those idle moments”.

That might mean “recommending content, services, or activities”, “suggesting more useful activities” (for example, pushing you towards that read-later list you never get around to clearing), or perhaps actually leaving you the hell alone (or as the paper puts it, suggesting the user use the time for “introspection”).

The boffins reckon they can identify “detectable mobile usage patterns” associated with boredom, and say that “being bored makes mobile phone users more open to consume suggested content”.

The study looked at three questions: does boredom measurably affect how someone uses their phone? What aspects of usage are the best indicators of boredom? And are people who are bored more likely to consume suggested content?

Using an app they dubbed Borapp, the researchers watched various phone sensors such as battery status, notifications, screen events, ambient noise, whether the audio jack was in use, what app was in the foreground, Wi-Fi status and so on.

The collected data was then correlated against a simple experience sampling question: “how bored do you feel right now?” (on a scale of 1 to 5).

Their conclusion:

“Our participants tended to be more bored the more time had passed since receiving phone calls, SMS, or notifications, and the less time had passed since making phone calls and sending SMS. However, the volume of notifications received in the last 5 minutes is likely to be higher when being bored.

“Being bored is also correlated with more phone use: the screen was less likely to be covered (which, for example, happens when the phone is stowed away), more apps were used, the last unlocking and checking for new notifications happened more recently, and the volume of data uploaded was higher when our participants were bored. Interestingly, the amount of data download and battery drain were lower when people were bored.”

Perhaps the most unpleasant aspect of the research? To test bored peoples' susceptibility to “read this” suggestions, the researchers then tested click-through rates – to BuzzFeed articles.

Just imagine what would happen if this fell into the wrong hands – such as, to pick an example completely at random, an advertising network that happened to have a side-business in smartphone operating systems. ®

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