Algorithm? Don’t Mind If I Do.

I don’t know why consumers have such a fascination with Apple products, but the love affair continues. Last week, after waiting all night to buy the new iPhone, an Australian guy dropped it, and this made headlines everywhere. shutterstock_72638878Are the aliens laughing at us yet? They should be.

Elsewhere in the world, religious fundamentalists are lopping off the heads of innocent journalists, the Ebola virus continues its deadly march (2,800 victims), and climate change besieges us with news of flooding, volcano eruptions, earthquakes and hurricanes. BUT, OMG, a man DROPPED HIS PHONE. Just saying!

Yesterday, CBC’s Norah Young explored the world of computer algorithms, in particular about how they affect our social news feeds (i.e., Twitter & Facebook). I think people need to be more aware of these silent automated functions. Did you know, for example, that if you mention a brand in your Facebook post, Facebook will treat it as a sponsored advertisement and use it to get money from the manufacturer? So if you happen to mention that you and your friends enjoyed a Bud Light Beer on the weekend, Facebook “algorithms” will find that mention, put your post top and center for a longer-than-usual time (so that more of your friends will be exposed to it) and will then collect advertising revenue from the makers of Bud Light. Yes! You’ve become an even better marketing “tool” for advertisers. Congratulations. And you don’t even have to know about it, let alone consent to it.

Why not ask Facebook to kick back some of that advertising revenue? There you go. Now everyone will be monetizing their Facebook posts and hoping to make a living off being a boorish “brand bragger.” You’ll earn money every time you mention your iPhone, and guess what? If you drop it, you can get your 15 minutes of instant fame, too. Enjoy it while you can, because the tricks are changing as fast as I can report on them.

I’ve also noticed an increase in “upgrade” requests. I enjoy free music streaming sites, but the annoyance of having my listening pleasure cut into every half hour with a loud announcer telling me to buy the premium version so that I don’t have to listen to him tell me this… well, that gets old really fast. And I refuse to give in to this “little” add-on fee, because I know that it represents a ton of revenue and effectively negates the whole notion of free (which was too good to be true, after all, I guess).

Also, as a result of not being on Facebook any more, I’m now being penalized by not having access to some companies who have chosen to go “Facebook only” with their Internet presence. Websites are dropping in popularity as the herd obsesses over our online social marketing sites, and for many, it’s incredibly cheap and easy to create a Facebook page. Who doesn’t want cheap and easy?

A full page in the New York Times can cost an advertiser close to $100,000. For just one time, to “maybe” reach a reader, in a paper which will be discarded ten minutes later. Advertisers are having a field day on the Internet these days, saving billions of dollars by moving away from print, and coming up with clever, opaque ways to influence our purchase decisions. Unfortunately, they’re not passing on the savings to their customers.

A small group of people are getting very, very wealthy as they exploit our love of connecting, nickel and dime us for small favours, and punish us for straying too far from the hapless herd. Do you need any more proof that we’ve become our own worst enemies?

NOTE: Algorithms, in case you don’t know, are calculations used for data processing and automated reasoning. They are programmed right into a technology. For example, Facebook coders might create an algorithm that will “watch” which ads you click on most, and instruct that your personal feed be “tweaked” to show more feeds from those advertisers. There’s no people behind these operations; it’s all done by a computer. 

One thought on “Algorithm? Don’t Mind If I Do.

  1. Aaaah the wonderful world we live in these days….great article, how sooo many people have lost touch with the real world…put down your phones people, lift your chin and you will see a beautiful world around you and wonderful people to talk to, everyone has a story.


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