Wednesday, October 02, 2019

4504 People You May Know

We all know the internet spies on us.  It knows more about you than you do. And it’s always willing to listen.

The big reason: The more it knows about you, the more it can target you for ads you’re likely to respond to.  This can be worrisome.  Especially when all this highly touted technology gets things consistently wrong.

The best example is when Facebook suggests “friends.”  This is a two part process.  First, they look for people you’ve connected with.  Then they find the connections’ connections and “suggest” them as “People You May Know.”  The system is imperfect. To the point where six isn’t a large enough degree of separation.

It’s possible that retired BART train operator Bart Bartley of San Francisco and I would like each other or at least have something to talk about.  About what?  Maybe subway cars?  Or we could debate whose ocean is better.  We have a possible connection only in that we’re two retired guys from cities that have famous names and oceanfronts. 

Then there’s Sally Weatherby, freshman at Mercer County, West Virginia Community College, and a hairstyling major.  Sally can’t be a day over 18.  Does she have grandpa issues, or what?  Would she want to practice cutting my hair?  Sorry, I’m all out of that.

Maybe Bart, Sally and I can get together on line and try to figure out what practical joker of a computer algorithm suggested us to each other. 

But we’re unlikely to form a conclusion that’s beyond reasonable doubt.  That’s because we don’t understand how these machines work.  Neither do the people who design, build or run them.  But if you use techno-speak or at least the word “technology” often enough, people will just assume they know stuff you don’t.

The word technology is overused to the point of meaninglessness.  Tech in new cars? Sure.  Tech in modern diagnostic medical equipment? Of course.  But technology in tooth brushes, shoes, cooking vessels and utensils?  Gimme a break!

Facebook and Google (and Amazon if you have one of its robot bugging devices) know how many times a day you go to the bathroom, what you had for breakfast and which advertiser’s products best suit your bathroom and mealtime habits.

So how do they get the “friend” thing wrong?  Possibly because people lie when they write their profiles.  Bart Bartley may have been a broom jockey, not the train motorman he says he was.

Sally Weatherby may have confused Facebook with a dating site like Cozy Coalminers or Beauty

The big mystery that springs from this post is simple: Do we want Facebook to improve its mastery of our biographies or are we content to let them screw things up and scroll through the pictures of all the guys and dolls we never heard of, would never meet in real life and have no interest in knowing.

It’s kind of an organic or accidental version of 21st Century privacy.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2019

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