How do I know that you’re lying? Your throat tattoo gave you away

Google wants to patent electronic tattoos that measure galvanic skin response. Your next piece of body art may also be a lie detector

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neck tattoo

Image credit: flickr/Alexis Lamster

For over a year now my teenage daughter has been demanding that we allow her to get a tattoo. So far, we have managed to resist the onslaught, mostly by insisting that any tattoo she gets will be duplicated on our own persons, followed by copious photos of same on Facebook.

Unless you’re a member of a biker clan, there is nothing less cool than sporting the same tattoos as your parents.

Now, thanks to Google, I may soon have another tactic to employ in our battle against ritual scarification.

“Sure, honey, get that tattoo. It just has to be an electronic one with a galvanic skin response app, so we can tell when you’re lying to us.”

Ink different

Science fiction? Nope. In May 2012, Google-owned Motorola Mobility filed for a patent for an “electronic skin tattoo capable of being applied to a throat region of a body.” Said tattoo would be able to communicate wirelessly with your handset and could contain an embedded microphone, the better to hear you in noisy public spaces.

That’s disturbing enough. One can imagine the scenarios – “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you, could you speak directly into my larynx?” Or “Could you repeat that? Somebody was shouting at my manubrium.” It could also bring a new level of sophistication to that Pass the Orange party game.

Another application might be to launch an application on your phone, say by singing the Hallelujah Chorus, or for use with voice-driven biometric passwords.

But here’s where it gets really creepy. The Register’s Rik Myslewski spotted this about halfway through the 10-page patent application

Optionally, the electronic skin tattoo 200 can further include a galvanic skin response detector to detect skin resistance of a user. It is contemplated that a user that may be nervous or engaging in speaking falsehoods may exhibit different galvanic skin response than a more confident, truth-telling individual.

The patent also contemplates a display that could cause the tattoo to change color if, say, the wearer says something like “No, honey, of course those pants don’t make you look fat.”

Lie to me

I’m trying to imagine a scenario in which any person voluntarily agrees to have a lie detector adhered to his or her throat, but I’m drawing a blank. But I can imagine scenarios in which people are legally coerced to do so – like, say, someone convicted of multiple counts of fraud. It would also be illuminating to see something like this required of our elected officials.

The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal called it “Google’s creepiest patent yet,” and I gotta say I am right there with him. As he also rightly points out, filing a patent and actually building a product based on that patent are two very different things. And of course, the patent has yet to be approved. Who knows, maybe somebody else came up with the let’s-slap-a-lie-detector-on-peoples’-throats idea before them.

It does make you wonder, though, what those guys in the Moto Labs are thinking. Are they ever allowed to leave their cube farm and talk to actual people? Because maybe it’s time they do.

Got a question about social media or privacy? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he'll make something up). Follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to's, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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