Who’s Your Data?

8b0caa2eccdaea0bc2aa5ecd047f1fcedd0172129e2ca91fda504e8463addefcThe other day I bought a wallet, it was from a company called Bellroy, they are a great product. Sleek, stylish and doesn’t make a lump in your pocket that throws out your back every time you sit down. I bought the card pocket, it’s a small wallet that suits my needs. I love their product and would recommend it to anyone. But…like any purchase you make online, it goes into the big data/big brother hive mind. The internet is listening to us, just not very well.

Right after the purchase, I received ads to buy a new wallet! I just bought one, why are you populating all my screens with wallet ads?!? Do I need that many wallets? And this happens to anything, you name it, whatever you buy online gets chucked into the algorithm. I googled an address for an ax-throwing place I went to with my brother. I just needed directions. For a month afterward, I was inundated with the ax-throwing ads.

What is the computer thinking? He must really like throwing axes, let’s make sure we let him know we’re there if he needs to satisfy his inner ax throwing urges. What am I? Paul Bunyan? Did I automatically become a lumberjack? And when does the ad change, the next purchase? Is there a time limit? It’s almost like they wrote this algorithm and then said “Good enough, it’s kind of working. Just leave it”.

Sometimes it does kind of work. But a broken clock is also right twice a day. The internet did figure out that a teen girl was pregnant before her father did using algorithms to data-mine the young girls shopping patterns and figure out she had a baby on the way. You can read the full article here. But this is an anomaly, the internet isn’t that smart yet, it does what we tell it to. Ones and zeros trying to be human is just embarrassing. Like a two-year-old trying to explain complex math, it just doesn’t work. Just pat the internet on the head and send it on its way.

There is no nuance to the suggestions it gives you either, it will just regurgitate purchases back to you, suggesting the same products or services over and over again. The computer is only recommending to you purchases you’ve already made or products related to it. You can only get a narrower and narrower selection of choices. It will finally have you sitting in a beige room, eating plain mash potatoes, in your brown muumuu. Doesn’t sound too exciting to me. Where is the variety, the spice of life?

I wish they had a preference where you could check a box and it would throw you curveballs. Recommend things that are opposite, like an antonym in a thesaurus. Just to change things up a bit. Have you ever had a friend suggest something you’d thought you’d hate and it became your new favourite things? Brussel sprouts, Rick and Morty, ax throwing (I know, shut up).

Then there is Big Brother, eavesdropping, making creepy suggestions. My next door
neighbour and I were having a discussion one night about life after death, the next day he got a suggested video on his Youtube list about life after death. Coincidence? Maybe.
But one couple on Youtube decided to test whether or not Facebook was listening to them. They didn’t have a dog but decided to talk about dog food around their computer, image003low and behold the next day they had dog food ads on their facebook page. Even talking on the phone I had mentioned that I was going to Star Wars, all of a sudden the Star Wars theme started to play in the background. After freaking out for a couple seconds I realized that my Xbox had been eavesdropping on my conversation and heard me mention Star Wars and launched Star Wars Battlefront 2. Now I have to worry about my technology listening in? Do I have to be careful what I say around my smart toaster? Ugh.

So they take all of this data, web surfing patterns, and overheard conversations and put together a picture of you. Or at least who they think you are. Most of it is way off, a scattered, poorly connected, out of focus mish-mash. It makes generalizations on little or no information, so I don’t think I have to worry about the internet wow-ing me anytime soon. It won’t be ordering for me at restaurants or picking out my clothes for me, this is going to take a while. So in the meantime, don’t get lazy. Make your own decisions, fight the suggested playlist, seek out things you wouldn’t necessarily choose, think outside the box, and please, don’t let the box think for you. Happy shopping!


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