Have you ever been watching something on youtube, but then found yourself an hour or two deep into recommended videos that you would never seek out on your own? The internet can seem like bottomless pit when it comes to the algorithms in place for our entertainment. These algorithms are specific to each person by managing to discover all sorts of things about us – our age, area, hobbies and interests. While some people might find this a more convenient aspect of the internet, others feel as though it is an intense invasion of privacy.
The movie ‘The Social Dilemma’ on Netflix goes into detail on how precise these algorithms can really be. We are always told that our technological footprint will never go away, but have we ever stopped to consider the sheer amount of actions that contribute to that footprint? We’re talking every individual text message, google search, and pretty much all minuscule interactions being carried out day to day. Like the saying goes; once you put it out there, you can’t get it back. Not only is it important to consider the kind of information that we are dumping out on the internet, but also how the people controlling our beloved technology can turn around and use it.
Usually when someone recommends something to another person it’s because they believe they would enjoy it. That is exactly how algorithms on the internet function. Because your footprint is being analyzed for patterns – such as the kinds of videos you enjoy watching, the music you listen to, what you buy on Amazon, the area in which you’re living and many other forms of personal information – you may suddenly find yourself falling down a rabbit hole. Suddenly a ten minute dive onto your phone turns into three hours of nonstop scrolling – and it really is that easy due to the specificity of recommendations. Algorithms work to find out exactly what appeals to you in order to present a specially-designed content pit.
One day I saw an advertisement for a store near my hometown on Facebook, so I clicked on it. Not only did my phone register that I was interested in this one store, but it began suggesting certain products similar to what I have browsed on other web-stores – even tracing back to many weeks before. While blatant advertisements aren’t the only purpose being served by algorithms, it does seem as though money is always a factor. For example, through niche sponsorships on social media, promoting content and in-app purchases.
Alaimo, C., Kallinikos, J. (2017) ‘Computing the Everyday: Social Media as Data Platforms’, The Information Society 33(4): 175–91.
Lindgren, Simon. Digital Media & Society. London: SAGE, 2017.