Monday, April 2, 2012

Is personalized news "Orwellian"? (Slate on Narrative Science)

How very Orwellian!

Seth Mnookin

Chris Kim A and I are not the only people who have written about Narrative Science. Evgeny Morozov is worried that the technology will "hurt civil discourse." Morozov cites an example:

Imagine that my online history suggests that I hold an advanced degree and that I spend a lot of time on the websites of the Economist or the New York Review of Books; as a result, I get to see a more sophisticated, challenging, and informative version of the same story than my USA Today-reading neighbor. If one can infer that I'm also interested in international news and global justice, a computer-generated news article about Angelina Jolie might end by mentioning her new film about the war in Bosnia. My celebrity-obsessed neighbor, on the other hand, would see the same story end with some useless gossipy tidbit about Brad Pitt.

Morozov goes on to cite another example:

Advertisers and publishers love such individuation, which could push users to spend more time on their sites. But the social implications are quite dubious. At the very least, there's a danger that some people might get stuck in a vicious news circle, consuming nothing but information junk food and having little clue that there is a different, more intelligent world out there.

The Slate article goes on to worry about all the information that Amazon and Google have about us.

But do we really need to worry about a world in which we are fed information about Brad Pitt? The horror!

Not everyone agrees that personalized ads are the death of social discourse. Louis Gray wrote about the topic back in January 2011:

For almost two years now, I've been asking ad companies to leverage my social profiles online. I am tired of getting singles ads, or mortgage ads or used car ads or any type of ads that don't match me as an individual. I've complained about low-quality offensive ads on sites just out to make a buck, embraced Twitter advertisements, assuming relevancy, and did the reverse for the poor Facebook ad experience. So whether you're like and want to make me the poster child for the seeming end of privacy or not, my stance on this has been consistent for some time. I would be more than eager to put more data into the system to make it a better system, including all the ads everywhere I go.

Gray would actually LIKE to see articles about things that interest him - yes, including breast pumps.

And while I do not lead my life as publicly as Gray does, I would not mind seeing advertisements - and stories - that are tailored to my interests. Hopefully my interests are broad enough that the resulting story feed would result in the occasional article that is NOT thoroughly compliant with every provision of the Book of Concord. Heck, I'd even be happy if there were 1530 non-Lutheran articles that interested me.

Even articles about Brad Pitt.
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