Can Digital Face-Morphs Influence Attitudes and Online Behaviors?


Eyal Peer, Bar-Ilan University; Sonam Samat and Alessandro Acquisti, Carnegie Mellon University


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.

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@inproceedings {219398,
author = {Sonam Samat and Eyal P{\'e}er and Alessandro Acquisti},
title = {Can Digital {Face-Morphs} Influence Attitudes and Online Behaviors?},
booktitle = {Fourteenth Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS 2018)},
year = {2018},
isbn = {978-1-939133-10-6},
address = {Baltimore, MD},
pages = {117--125},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug