Imagine an Internet where unseen hands curate your entire experience. Where third parties predetermine the news, products and prices you see—even the people you meet. A world where you think you are making choices, but in reality, your options are narrowed and refined until you are left with merely the illusion of control.
Here’s an interesting piece by Scientific American. It focuses on the personalization of the content we see on the internet (in all it’s forms), and questions whether such “personalization” and data-mining techniques could be used for the potentially sketchy activities of pricing optimization and heightened availability of the items we see, (and buy), dependent on where you as a person are located in the world, and how much you earn.
Citing that ninety-nine percent of those living in the world today “live on the wrong side of a one-way mirror,” the magazine explains that two ‘Internets’ are now emerging.
One for the poor, and one for the rich in society.
On the rich side of the mirror, this personalization of data and the content we consume, today, may act to inflate the prices of items we purchase because the internet, and the companies which control its data flow – (mainly, Google and Facebook), not only “decides” that we are more likely to purchase said item, but that your income warrants the increase in price.
This decision is based on a number of variables, including (but not limited to) the site or site(s) you were visiting prior to landing on the e-commerce website, your buying history, how much you earn as a person (likely guessed or estimated from data present on your LinkedIn profile, online CV, and other data you choose to upload to the internet and tie to your Google or Facebook account), alongside a myriad of other influencing factors.
“As a result, 99 percent of us live on the wrong side of a one-way mirror, in which the other 1 percent manipulates our experiences. Some laud this trend as “personalization”—which sounds innocuous and fun, evoking the notion that the ads we see might appear in our favorite color schemes,” Fertik writes.
“What we are talking about, however, is much deeper and significantly more consequential,” he states.
The publication goes on to note that the internet experience on the other side of the mirror is starkly different. On this side of the one-way mirror, the magazine highlights that a person who is classed as being “poor” may (in effect) be singled out by these ‘data personalization’ algorithms and shown news, content, data, products and contacts which the internet, (and the companies who control its data flow), ‘decides’ is appropriate.
“Technical advances in mining online and offline data have made it possible to skirt the spirit of the law: companies can simply not make any offers to less credit-attractive populations.”
This, it says, can result in someone who is considered “poor” by the system not even being shown options which could help them to get out of their current financial situation.
“If you live on the wrong side of the digital tracks, you won’t even see a credit offer from leading lending institutions, and you won’t realize that loans are available to help you with your current personal or professional priorities.”
It’s an interesting set of circumstances. On the one hand, you have some people who believe that data personalization can be great, as it allows for the internet to learn about you and your habits, and then tailor the information it displays to you as a person based on this ‘profile’. This process (in theory) is designed to help you find exactly what you’re looking for more quickly, than you perhaps would have done if this personalization algorithm didn’t exist.
On the other hand, however, the increasing split of information based on a person’s geographic location and current income is becoming apparent in that a visible divide is also appearing — and this method of data customization is affecting the internet in every form.
From the information and content we consume through our desktop browser to the information and content we ultimately consume through the apps we run on our smartphones and tablets, the poor vs. rich split of information and product availability is prevalent.
There’s a fine line between personalizing the internet and segregating the information it provides based on a person’s financial situation, geographic location and purchase history.
We’re not there yet, but that’s where it’s heading – (in my opinion).
The Question: Do You Believe Data Personalization (And The Algorithms Which Facilitate It) Is Beneficial To The Future Advancement Of The Internet?