Trapped in a web of algorithms

I once signed up to Experian to be able to see my credit score. I believe it was when I was exploring the possibility of getting a mortgage, or perhaps when I was confused about being turned down for a credit card. I don’t remember being able to see very much, but I remember seeing bad ratings related to things I had never done, or at least things connected to addresses I had lived at where someone else was on the radar for bad credit.

It was uncomfortable enough seeing what the financial companies that control money could see about me. Now it’s not just credit rating, it’s online interaction data as well that somebody somewhere is putting together to keep profits on everyone.

The more I read about data capturing online, the more uncomfortable I feel. Not necessarily because I do or have done anything that would get me into trouble, but as most of the data is captured by algorithm, is the data anywhere near correct? I doubt it. And to fully understand and control this stuff is a massive challenge which I and probably most other people don’t really have time for.

For evidence of what’s going on, to a small extent, look at the adverts which get included in your searches, your Facebook or Twitter feed or any of the web pages you browse. Assuming you don’t have any special filters blocking or guarding your browsing habits, and you’re using Google Chrome while you’re signed into Google, then I suspect you will, like me, have noticed that certain adverts follow you around, based on something you may have done previously.

Amazon is a sticky one. I bought some Playmobil stuff for a nephew on behalf of his dad and now I get adverts for Playmobil kits. I browsed around for a while recently trying to figure out how bitcoin-type currencies worked and what blockchains are. Now I’m getting adverts for alternative currency investment platforms.

This is mildly annoying, but what if ‘they’ have something really wrong? What if you’re labelled as something which might be politically or culturally sensitive but that actually isn’t you? In the current political climate there are certainly worries in this area.

This episode on the podcast ‘Note to Self’ is worth a listen to hear more. On more episodes they explore other things related to the digital age, such as online behaviour and social media.

There’s an app suggested in the show that allows you to see what Facebook ‘has on you’ but it seems to be defunct now, unfortunately. I’d love to have used it.

As for me, I’ve recently been drifting off Facebook. And not just because of the data. It just feels wrong for so many reasons. It’s just a big display. Every time I think of posting something I immediately get a vision of what it ‘means’, the way I evaluate what other people posts. Everything is always projecting something and let’s face it, most of these things are false. You are not you, you are a (sometimes carefully, often not) cultivated version of you.

I suppose most people realise this and might put up with this, or perhaps most people don’t and just think they’re being ‘honest’. Most people only post good stuff, that’s true. And people that are moaning are mostly fishing for support or a fellow cynic to moan with. Oh poor you! Is that a bad thing? Perhaps not, but it irritates me. Especially vaguebooking.

I use Google Chrome and other Google products because they’re good and they’re easy to use and connect with other apps and platforms. You can have them on Apple devices as well, so it’s easy to connect all my products. But just IMAGINE what they know about me. I hate myself for using Google!

Back to the pervasive use of Facebook though. One thing that is true of my profession (and many others, I’m sure) is that there are lots of related Facebook groups and obviously the platform is great (practically speaking) for connecting, sharing and networking. But I HATE the fact that it’s so ubiquitous and EVERYONE just creates a fucking Facebook page without considering whether it’s OK, just because everyone thinks everyone else does Facebook. And when you think of the data they collect and what they could do with it, perhaps encouraging the ‘Facebookification’ of professional life is not actually such a good idea after all.

And then there are Facebook groups set up by schools for students. Is that really such a great idea?

All in all, it so often feels to me that currently we’re all more or less obliged to be on Facebook, otherwise we are weird, disconnected or missing out. And we probably would be missing out, considering the information we’d not be able to access. And that, above anything else, is what annoys me the most.

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