Are Robots Stalking Me?
Yes they are and probably you as well. Unless you browse in incognito mode 100% of the time, chances are your search history is used to give you recommendations. Search for headlights on a website and then you’ll notice you start getting tailored ads on buying headlights with EBay or Amazon. Even some of the podcasts I listen to send me recommendations based on the genre of shows I listen to. This is based on sophisticated algorithms to assist you with finding things or help introduce you to new things.
Why Is It Happening?
Targeted advertisements and recommendations happen across a number of platforms including the most popular social media platform Facebook. Any Facebook user can likely attest to a list of recommended new friends based on people you may know that are associated with your existing friends or other data you have shared (where you graduated, where you work, etc.) Some of this is done in an effort to help us feel connected and to have a sense of belonging. Other aspects are for Facebook to generate revenue from advertisers but let’s just not focus on that at the moment. Feeling connected is really what Facebook was created for. For some users, this might be how you stay connected with friends and family that live out of state. Others may use it to stay current on news or popular trends. These connections can help develop homophily.
What is homophily?
Homophily is a term that can be summarized as love of the same. William Hanff (2016) states the term homophily was coined in 1954 by social scientists and since then, the idea has been expanded by media technologies to enable politically similar people to seek out news that agrees with their beliefs. From the sake of a social media perspective, most people will tend to flock towards like minded groups or people that have similar political or religious beliefs. Those stalking robots are aware of this and they have the data to analyze and come to that conclusion. This is how they can suggest things it believes you will like which is based on your own data and data of your like minded friends and family.
Some people might call them robots and others just might refer to it as artificial intelligence (AI). Whatever your preference, it involves super smart people that are way smarter than me building those programs. A lot of what you share (and what your friends share) is what is used in these programs to give you recommendations. Bernard Marr wrote an article for Forbes about some of the ways Facebook uses AI (2016). The article discusses a term called Deep Learning that enables machines to learn to classify data on their own. It also has references to a tool called DeepText in which the machines learn to analyze words contextually. This type of AI can be used to give users recommendations based on what the machine thinks you’ll be interested in. Marr also discusses the targeted advertising Facebook uses which can be fine tuned by advertisers. Additional details about how specific advertiser’s can get is discussed in an article found on CNBC called How Facebook ads target you.
The question to ask at this point is whether this creeps you out knowing how AI can formulate recommendations based on your data that you possibly didn’t know it had access to. Or is this something you’re ok with because it can help introduce you to like minded things or help you finally find the perfect toilet seat for the best deal when you were beginning to think all hope was lost?
Marr, B. (December 2016). 4 Mind-Blowing Ways Facebook Uses Artificial Intelligence. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2016/12/29/4-amazing-ways-facebook-uses-deep-learning-to-learn-everything-about-you/#c9b256bccbf0
CNBC (April 2018). How Facebook ads target you. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/14/how-facebook-ads-target-you.html
Hanff, W. (August 2016). News aggregator. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/news-aggregator#ref1235364