The Problems with Personalization

Technology, combined with big data collection, now make it possible to provide you with personalized experiences, choices, advertisements, etc. The most apparent way many of us interact with this is through targeted advertising. Or with the promise to analyze our habits and provide insights. This process starts when a company collects our data through devices (e.g., wearables, mobile, etc.).

I would love to learn to more about my habits. I would love to improve my life with the latest and greatest technology. However, using all these services requires us to give up something. That something is our privacy, personal information, and intimate knowledge of our habits. That’s one of the problems.

Additionally, many of these analyses occur through algorithms. As end users, we often have a low understanding of how these algorithms work. While the results may look promising, or fancy, it doesn’t mean they’re accurate. Or meaningful to us. And it doesn’t mean that we can base decisions on them.

An inherent danger with algorithms is that sometimes they only provide us with more of the same. For example, social media news feed suggestions are often flooded with similar articles/headlines to ones you’ve viewed in the past. Or ones viewed by your connections.

Another challenge with algorithms is how many people “game the system.” This means people intentionally post flashy, sensational content to get noticed and go viral. Usually it works, which is why so many people continue to do it. It’s also one of the main ways disinformation and misinformation spread so quickly.

One of my primary concerns is always the retention of our personal data. Check out last week’s posting, The Internet of Things and Data Retention Policies, for more details.

And on another level, this level of personalization is kind of creepy! A few months ago, which watching TV, I was convinced that the commercials related directly to my internet shopping. In no time I discovered that my TV had in fact been monitoring my searches. The commercials were targeted advertising. I disabled the monitoring in the settings.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

Check your settings on all your devices. Investigate how to prevent data collection and sharing.

If you do want to use a service:

Read the EULAs (End-User License Agreements) or Terms of Service. Ask questions. Read the FAQs. Make sure you agree with the terms presented.

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