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Predictive text tells people (and others) your secrets

Funny happenstances make great tweets but there’s a dark side

preteen white girl with freckles seems to be levitating 7 glass orbs in the air, each with a different scene in them.
random words aren’t random

Today on Twitter I came across another predictive text game where users were given a phrase to type into their text window (or other typed field) and then instructed to use the predictive text to finish the sentence. The phrase was originally written by the now-deleted account, @homohex. It was “I am [sexual orientation] and that’s why I [predictive text].” The user is meant to fill-in-the-blank with their sexual orientation and then use predictive text to complete the sentence. I saw the tweet from the account, @swheatpodcasts.

a screenshot of @swheatpodcasts tweet. It contains a retweet of @homohex's tweet. It contains the words "I am asexual and that's why I have a hard time."
“I am asexual and that’s why I have a hard time.”

Indeed, quite a few responses seemed germane and poignant, especially to the people who posted them. Some examples below.

A tweet that says "I am asexual and that's why I am so scared of how it feels to be a better person."
From @WayfarerAsh
A screenshot of a tweet. The tweet says "I am bisexual and that's why I have a good time. There it is. The perfect tweet."
From @WildlyLiberal
From @rubbcheetah

Predictive text can be revealing. No, your phone isn’t psychic, but it is learning your behavior. There are a few different ways predictive text works, but one of the more robust programs actually learns what words you personally use the most often. This means that sharing your predictive text result also shows the world what words you’ve been typing more often than others.

In the grand scheme of things (*waves at the world*) this little phenomenon isn’t all that revealing or dangerous. But I’m sensing users don’t get that their predictive text is not going to be the same as another person’s. These algorithms aren’t random word generators. And as we get more advanced tech, they will get quite personal.

I like to look at predictive word generators as being as revealing as a Freudian Slip, an accidental yet significant-to-the-subcontext spoken error. It is something said by mistake but lets what you’re really (or subconsciously) thinking “slip” out. Freudian slips can be embarrassing. Of course, most of the time mature adults ignore them, but one can step deep into some doo-doo if something slips out at the wrong time.

The real problem I see coming, if people keep up their magical “look how funny this is!” thinking about predictive text, is predatory marketing. These specific word tree algorithms will have a significant amount of personality data on each user. And any data that can be collected and sold will be, much to our detriment. This culture of treating predictive text like it is some kind of woo-woo prognostication device will only help the ignorance surrounding how very real and potentially exploitative data is being generated and primed for selling.

Image by Thomas B. from Pixabay