Stanford University

Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab

Welcome to the Persuasive Technology Lab Website. We are part of H-STAR Institute and the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Persuasive Technology was a term BJ Fogg coined while conducting graduate work at Stanford University in the 1990’s. He was, and still is an optimist about the value and impact technology can have to help people feel successful doing what they already want to do. 

From the very early days in the late 90’s and early 00’s we could see the need for an ethical approach for designing persuasive technologies. While our research has moved on from persuasive technology to focus on designing for healthy behavior change, we believe it is important to continue to highlight the ethical contributions in the field of Persuasive Technology so that those who are responsible for designing persuasive technologies can do so in an ethical way. Below you will find several resources our lab created on the ethical creation of persuasive technologies.

  • Soon after starting the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab in 1997, we  began teaching about the ethics of persuasive technology, both at the university and in industry (1997). Within the next few years we extended our message around ethics including this article in Wired Magazine. https://www.wired.com/2000/03/fiddling-with-human-behavior/ )
  • Also in 1999, our lab wrote an article on the ethics of persuasive tech which was part of a special issue of ACM that BJ guest edited. See this issue here: https://cacm.acm.org/magazines/1999/5
  • In 2002, BJ wrote the first book chapter about the ethics of persuasive tech. See chapter 9 in his book Persuasive Technology. Start with page 213 here: http://bit.ly/2uQt5SO
  • Our Lab organized the first-ever conference about the ethics of persuasive tech (half-day event at Stanford)
  • In 2006 we created a video to warn the FTC (and others) about problematic areas related to persuasive technology. See the video here: https://vimeo.com/117427520

(BJ’s quick note: This video above has a slow pace, and it’s not my best look, with the shaved head and all. However, do listen to what I was predicting and warning people about. At least go to minute 10 and see what I say about the political use of persuasion profiles. We recorded this video in 2006 to warn policymakers of the impacts persuasive technology could have. Remember, this message was recorded in 2006 not 2016 and the message rings true more and more every day.)

In addition to our lab’s consistent focus on the need for an ethical approach to persuasive technology, we also emphasized the opportunity for Persuasive Technology to help millions of people. Here are a few areas where we put this into practice.  Along with those efforts, our lab focused on technology that promoted peace.

  1. The lab’s focus on technology to promote peace (starting in 2009) led to a new lab at Stanford called the “Peace Innovation Lab” — https://peaceinnovation.stanford.edu/
  2. Based on our work in the lab, BJ co-authored a book in 2010 to help parents understand Facebook and protect their kids: Facebook for Parents (out of print now but you can find copies online).
  3. We researched and then held five ground-breaking industry events (2007-2012) to share insights and best practices around how mobile devices can be used to improve the health of everyday people. We focused on what really works to change people’s health behaviors.
  4. I have long been a champion for my former students doing good things in the world, including Tristan Harris and his work (“Time Well Spent” and now Center for Humane Technology). Tristan has a TedTalk discussing the dark side of Persuasive Technology and he continues to champion the ethical use of these technologies to solve the current challenges we face. 

I am extremely proud of the work our lab has done over the years and while our work has moved away from this arena, I hope anyone looking to design persuasive technologies will review the work we have done on ethics and focus their research and efforts on positive change and helping people succeed and feel successful at doing what they already want to do. 

BJ Fogg, PhD