Are you oblivious to what falls outside of personalized information feeds?
Today’s post is our SafeSourcing Archives
Mark Zuckerberg once famously said “A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa”. Along those same lines, Eric Schmidt of Google fame proclaimed “The power of individual targeting—the technology will be so good it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them”. Often times statements like these disquiet our fears of artificial intelligence, or of Google powered robots taking over the world. But I think there’s a much bigger, and more immediate cost to what is being described above.
Have you ever noticed how many of the news feeds, search results, and advertisements that you don’t have a choice in seeing are often customized to your interests? What kind of long term effects do you think this will have on a society, especially one that is only getting more and more embedded into online networks of all types? Some believe it will necessarily lead to us only seeing the information we agree with, and that can be a dangerous thing.
This is why Eli Pariser, executive director of moveon.org, believes that opinions are becoming both more polarized, and more narrow minded. One way this problem seems to be manifesting itself is through the increasing polarization of opinions in topics ranging from global warming, gun control, ISIS, and vaccines. The claims of both sides of any argument seem to get more extreme and certain of their views, and rarely ever less. This is because the algorithms that review our history and populate our search results, also tailor our information feeds to what we want to see. But how then will we learn things we need to know, without being limited to the things we want to know?
Right now, the options are limited. All of your Facebook and Google results go through algorithms that customize their outputs to your activity. Google gives some tips for how to prevent that in PC browser searches by deactivating your history, but that option is not available for mobile browsing. Don’t forget, these companies are advertising revenue based, so they’re incentivized right off the bat to give you output that will sell ad space, which is more effective with personalized marketing. In this case, although there doesn’t seem to be a black and white answer, age old advice seems to be the most useful: Never stop learning, listen to opinions different than yours, be humble, and never assume you are right without considering the alternatives.
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 “Search and browse privately – the Google Help Center.” 2014. 14 Dec. 2015 <https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/4540094?hl=en>