Can digital face-morphs influence attitudes and online behaviors?

Eyal Peer, Sonam Samat, Alessandro Acquisti

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Self-images are among the most prevalent forms of content shared on social media streams. Face-morphs are images digitally created by combining facial pictures of different individuals. In the case of self-morphs, a person's own picture is combined with that of another individual. Prior research has shown that even when individuals do not recognize themselves in self-morphs, they tend to trust self-morphed faces more, and judge them more favorably. Thus, self-morphs may be used online as covert forms of targeted marketing - for instance, using consumers' pictures from social media streams to create self-morphs, and inserting the resulting self-morphs in promotional campaigns targeted at those consumers. The usage of this type of personal data for highly targeted influence without individuals' awareness, and the type of opaque effect such artifacts may have on individuals' attitudes and behaviors, raise potential issues of consumer privacy and autonomy. However, no research to date has examined the feasibility of using self-morphs for such applications. Research on self-morphs has focused on artificial laboratory settings, raising questions regarding the practical, in-the-wild applicability of reported self-morph effects. In three experiments, we examine whether self-morphs could affect individuals' attitudes or even promote products/services, using a combination of experimental designs and dependent variables. Across the experiments, we test both designs and variables that had been used in previous research in this area and new ones that had not. Questioning prior research, however, we find no evidence that end-users react more positively to self-morphs than control-morphs composed of unfamiliar facial pictures in either attitudes or actual behaviors.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 14th Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security, SOUPS 2018
PublisherUSENIX Association
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781939133106
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes
Event14th Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security, SOUPS 2018 - Baltimore, United States
Duration: 12 Aug 201814 Aug 2018

Publication series

NameProceedings of the 14th Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security, SOUPS 2018


Conference14th Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security, SOUPS 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited States

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by The USENIX Association All Rights Reserved.


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