Issues of Privacy with Ad Algorithms

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Have you ever been confused, when you are looking at webpage that has an advertising side bar, and something that you often look up is popping up as the ad? Personally, this always kind of freaked me out; how did this specific site know that I had looked this up in the past? Could other sites, and to go further, people, know that this is what I was looking up?

After reading George Dvorksy’s article, this phenomenon made a little more sense to me. He mentioned two algorithms, “You May Also Enjoy…” in which certain sites like Amazon and Netflix suggest things the user might like based on things they have previously bought or watched, and “Google AdWords” in which an algorithm takes key words or behavior online to suggest “contextual advertising.” These algorithms are exactly what I think of when I see ads pop up on websites that are for a website that I had previously browsed. For example, the below picture is a capture of a Spanish translating site I use. The advertisement on the side is for Anthropologie, a clothing company that I often visit online to browse for clothes.

This image is a capture of an internet page from my personal computer. 

So an algorithm is processing my commonly-visited sites and searches and producing a visual image for an advertisement of what it has decided, based on its data of my searches, is something that I would like to see.

I can see how this can be seen as beneficial, but I also find it to be somewhat of an invasion of privacy by an algorithm. Not that most of us have much to hide, but personal browsing is what it sounds like- personal. And yet a computer program is able to take what we look up on our private computers and reproduce that to us. And I think that is the scariest part- that it isn’t even a human doing this, but a computer. A computer algorithm can immediately have access to our internet searches and visited websites. For me, that puts into question (similar to questions of Artificial Intelligence), what else can a computer do? How much power do they really have?

Posted from Digital Studies 101 Blog by Lindsay