It is not the plot of an episode of Black Mirror, but a real (controversial) service offered by a start-up with offices in London, Bangalore and Tel Aviv, which promises to offer a “brainwashing” service to convince whoever you want do what you want.
You can “convince” someone to quit smoking, have sex, or even become a vegetarian! These are some of the real packages offered by the company, all for sale at a more than affordable price of $29 each.
The mechanism used for the “brainwashing” is nothing more than an additional step compared to normal Internet advertising. The messages, targeted on the individual person, rather than trying to convince you to buy something, try to convince you to start some other action. And more than the service itself, it is perhaps the fact that it makes evident the implications of the technologies we use every day that should be more disturbing.
The service tries to subconsciously influence a specific person, checking the content of the websites he usually visits. The “targeted person” is repeatedly exposed to hundreds of contents, sometimes even positioned and disguised as editorial content in the normal site.
As you can imagine, the service has attracted numerous criticisms: for example, several marriage counsellors have emphasised that using a service of this type to convince their partner to have sex more often (the best-selling package according to the company, which claims to having sold over 100,000 worldwide) certainly does not strengthen marriage.
The spontaneous question is probably “but is it legal?”. The answer is “ni”, in the sense that the service is legal in almost the whole world. The exception, fortunately for us, is Europe, where the privacy law makes the service illegal, at least in its current form. The start-up contract rules prohibit European citizens from purchasing the service, but it is not possible to say whether this ban is actually respected.