Controlled by Algorithms

I follow a blog called “Diary of a Dublin Housewife”. The author has an unusual knack for recording conversations. I will never know how much they are fictionalised but they can be hilarious, whimsical, sad or thoughtful. And I love the Irishisms in them.

I am going to imitate this idea and record a conversation. I don’t think it will be funny though.

  • I think Google is reading my Whatsapp messages.
  • How is that possible? I thought Whatsapp had end to end encryption?
  • I thought so too. But an article about Kirsten Dunst suddenly appeared in my feed after our conversation last night. So I’m doing a test. I’m going to write some random stuff. See if any of it is reflected in my Google News Feed.
  • Ok. I’m ready.
  • Princess Di was such a beautiful person. I am thinking of getting my hair cut like hers. Do you think green boots would look good on me? I heard Nicole Kidman is in Australia. I would love to meet her. We are thinking of buying a new chicken coop. Do you know a good store?
  • You’ll look great with a Princess Di haircut and maybe you should dye your hair green to match the boots! You could try Bunnings for the chicken coop.
  • Ha ha! Brilliant! Thanks.
  • Hey, I just googled. Google assistant can read WhatsApp messages… as in read them out loud to you. So I suppose it must have access to reading the data.
  • Hmmm. My text-to-speech thingy is switched off.
  • <Shrug emoticon> Who knows? I don’t have news feed. I’m curious why it bothers you that it suggests things. And if it didn’t suggest things, what would come up in your news feed? What news feed would make you happy? I don’t like that it can read personal messages though. That seems more sinister than suggesting articles to read.
  • But it has to read personal messages to find stuff to make the suggestions. And my argument with the suggestions it makes is that they are not what I call news. Celebrity gossip has never interested me and to my mind it is not news. The lives and troubles of actors and actresses and rich people are of no consequence in the real world. If they’re going to call it “News”, give a good spread of articles about issues that effect populations, not just the top five percent of wealthy people.
  • I agree. Tabloids and celebrity gossip are definitely not news. But in a way I don’t mind. YouTube is free and I rip all my music from there. You don’t get something for nothing.
  • You’re more tolerant than me. I would rather go and buy a CD like in the old days. I don’t want something for nothing. I want to know what I’m getting and what the consequences are. None of us voted to have our lives organized by algorithms. And I think we all slipped into it pretty unsuspectingly. That’s big business. Profit first. Ethics later.
  • Hmmm. I don’t know. You’re using an app for free. They have to make money somehow. I wish I could remove Netflix suggestions. That bothers me more.
  • But when I signed up for Facebook 12 years ago, I had no idea about “The Big Machine”. Did you?
  • Not really but it was different back then. I don’t think it had ads. Instagram didn’t either at first.
  • The ads are a problem because they’re targeted. When you join FB or Insta, you become the product.
  • Someone can shame me and post the video on Youtube and it’s really hard to get it removed. The ads aren’t the only problem. All the disgusting content is.
  • True. The internet issues are a bit like gun issues. If everybody acted responsibly, neither would be a problem.
  • I don’t really get why you object to targeted ads in a free product. You can choose not to use it.
  • Yes. And a lot of the time I do try to make that choice. But living outside these algorithms is like trying to live now the way the Aboriginal People lived 300 years ago. My point is, I would happily pay for a product without ads and with proper privacy in place. I guess that’s texting.
  • Ok. I get it. But that’s not really possible, is it? The content is not created by YouTube, is it?
  • No. And yet we all survived before YouTube.
  • At least you can choose not to watch it. What about all the advertising in shopping centres and GP offices? It drives me crazy!
  • To me, Netflix suggesting stuff is like being a regular at your local library and the librarian says “Oh, if you liked that book, it’s possible you might like this one or that series…”
  • Yes, but you can’t just say “Thanks for your help but I’d rather browse.”
  • Where as Google is more like somebody overhearing three words you said in conversation on a bus and forcefully shoving related pamphlets at you.
  • True. And they don’t even care if you want Australian stuff. I was trying to buy some face masks and it kept taking me to American sites. So frustrating!

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