Hidden Effects of Algorithms

In Zeynep Tufekci’s Ted Talk titled “We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads,” she discusses how algorithms that are used to help with advertising on social media and other places online can also be used to control us in ways not commonly considered.

For example, Facebook used ads for voting to run an experiment to discover which version of the ad helped attract more voters. The people involved in the experiment were not aware that they were part of it, but it actually had the ability to affect real like events such as presidential elections. The effects of the experiment were real and those involved had no idea until afterwards.

She also discusses how advertisers use personal information and algorithms.

A more recent article “Google leans more on algorithms for ads as critics highlight risks” shows that platforms like Google are continuing to use algorithms even though they are criticized because of fears that “machine learning increases risks of discrimination and privacy intrusions

In advertising. Machines can learn to prey on vulnerable individuals or withhold offers to people based on sensitive traits such as race”. Tufekci also explores this idea with her example of selling tickets to Vegas to people in more vulnerable categories such as overspenders, which can be done with the help of algorithms.

Google is addressing some concerns and has researched the fairness of machine learning and is checking for biases in algorithms, but it is “not a solved problem” according to Google senior vice president for ads.

The problem that this article about Google and Tufekci’s article both address is that algorithms lack transparency. It is hard to tell what exactly the costs of an algorithm are, because of the hidden nature of algorithms. Tufekci mentions that people are not upset by algorithms and the invasion of privacy enough, because they are not transparent, but rather the people in power use algorithms to quietly watch us and we don’t even know that it is happening. The true, complete impact of algorithms used in these circumstances is unknown in because social media and internet users are unaware for the most part.




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