Quick, what do you think is the most popular smiley in the world? Too hard? How about in the US. If trying to look for a scientific survey of such data is too difficult, you can relax knowing that Apple has done the job for all of us. It has just released what its own data collection has determined to be the most popular smiley in the country, which turned out to be “face with tears of joy”. It even beat out the heart, which you’d think comes up more naturally in conversations.
Of course, it doesn’t really tell us much about the psychology behind it, since the emoji is often used not in the way its name spells it out. “Tears of joy” is often more easily understood to mean just one thing. The smiley, however, can sometimes be used to indicate uncomfortable smiling, trying to smile while crying, and more. In that sense, it’s probably easier to understand why it would outrank a heart emoji. But it also exponentially surpasses the most common smiley.
You might begin to wonder where Apple got its information from. Now, this is where things get a bit interesting. It all got it from you. That is, if you’re a user of macOS Sierra or iOS 10 or higher. And no, the company didn’t explicitly survey users about it.
The emoji data comes from what Apple calls its differential privacy technology. What this does, in essence, is to mix the usual statistical data gathered from users with “statistical noise”, gathered from a large number of users, in order to effectively mask the identity of an individual. It is, in a way, Apple’s middle ground to be able to collect data to improve its services while still respecting users’ privacy.
Differential privacy is currently being used to improve many of Apple’s auto-suggestions, from QuickType to Safari to, of course, Emojis. In this particular instance, Apple’s data seems to coincide with those from Emojipedia and EmojiTracker, proving how effective the technology is.