The human brain's predictable fallibility leaves us susceptible to the creation of false memories by brand marketers through retroactive product placement into our photos posted on Facebook and other social networks, Creative Lead for Firefox Aza Raskin said in a keynote speech at the University of Michigan School of Information posted online today.

"Changing pictures on Facebook to include product placement will create false memories," Raskin warned at the conclusion of a 45 minute presentation about the plasticity of human memory. "We will have memories of things we never did with brands we never did. Our past actions are the best predictor of our future decisions, so now all of a sudden, our future decisions are in the hands of people who want to make money off of us. That makes me very, very scared. I can see this happening and I can see it happening very soon."

Comparing popular culture to several examples of neurological research on the topic, Raskin says: "[The movie] Inception made it seem like implanting a false memory was hard, but it turns out that it's really easy to make false memories. It takes one session of less than an hour, or a couple of paragraphs [of written text]."

Raskin, aged 27, is one of the most prolific inventors at Mozilla and a serial entrepreneur besides. In the keynote speech (embedded below) he makes a call to arms for information professionals to try to stop this dystopian future of cognitive brand subterfuge of free will, but he notes that no one knows how to inoculate people from it. Even people aware of the tactics remain susceptible to them, he argues.


The full video of Raskin's talk is embedded below. Time-pressed viewers can skip to 30:58, where Raskin tells a charming story about Michael Arrington and discusses the social media specifics beyond the cognitive generalities he spends most of the talk discussing.

Note: The video contains a discussion of sexual violence that may not be suitable for some viewers, between the 15:00 and 20:00 marks.

Keynote for the John Seely Brown Symposium at University of Michigan from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

What do you think? Are Raskin's concerns realistic and properly framed? If so, what can be done about this - if anything? I've emailed Facebook to ask it what the company thinks of these arguments and will update this post when I get a reply. The concerns raised by Raskin need not be specific to Facebook, but that site does offer many of the preconditions Raskin says are required for the effective creation of false memories and has already experimented extensively with the use of social endorsements of questionable authenticity.

Update: Facebook responded and said it had no comment.