… In the paper, “Crowd Soft Control: Moving beyond the Opportunistic,” Bustamante and his group designed a way to “soft control” people’s movements by tapping into games or social networking applications. For example, a game might offer extra points if a player visits a certain location in the real world, or it might send a player to a certain location in a virtual scavenger hunt.
To test crowd soft control, the researchers created Android games, including one called Ghost Hunter in which a player chases ghosts around his neighborhood and “zaps” them through an augmented reality display on his phone. In actuality, the player’s zapping motion snaps a photo of the spot where the ghost is supposedly located.
Unlike a regular “augmented reality game,” where the ghosts might be placed randomly, in Ghost Hunter the researchers are able to manipulate where the ghosts are placed; while some are placed in frequently traveled areas, others are located in out-of-the-way, rarely photographed locations.
The game was tested on Northwestern students, who were told only that they were testing a new game. They were not informed which ghosts were placed randomly and which were placed for research purposes.
“We wanted to know if we could get the players to go out of their way to get points in the Ghost Hunter game,” Bustamante said. “Every time they zapped a ghost, they were taking a photograph of Northwestern’s campus. We wanted to see if we could get more varied photographs by ‘soft controlling’ the players’ movements.”
The participants were willing to travel well out of their regular paths to capture the ghosts, the researchers found. For example, researchers were able to collect photos of Northwestern’s Charles Deering Library from numerous angles and directions — a far broader range of data than the random sampling found on Flickr, where photographs overwhelmingly capture the front of the library.“Playing the game seemed to be a good enough vehicle to get people to go to these places,” said John P. Rula, a McCormick graduate student and the lead author of the paper.
If this technology were implemented on a larger scale, users would need to be notified that their data was being collected for research purposes, Bustamante said. …