Summary of We’re Building a Dystopia Just to Make People Click on Ads

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Many science-fiction thrillers address the fantastical notion of androids gone bad. Yet the most likely dystopian scenario to unfold is one where authorities appropriate data-gathering technologies for their own nefarious purposes. Techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci illustrates how the potential for abuse could make the novel 1984 look quaint. getAbstract recommends her sobering TED Talk to concerned citizens who seek a quick overview of what’s at stake.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How digital companies use algorithms to sell advertising and 
  • What unintended consequences this technology could unleash.
 

About the Speaker

Techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci studies the effects of emerging technologies on human lives.

 

Summary

Have you ever noticed that ads for products you’ve viewed online follow you from website to website, even after you’ve relented and bought the items? This “persuasion architecture” is the digital equivalent of candy placed at kids’ eye level at the store checkout. It seems innocuous. You mostly ignore it. But digital persuasion architecture has the power to target billions of people. Each pitch is customized to exploit individual desires and vulnerabilities. The companies developing these “machine-learning algorithms” – Facebook, Google, et al. – are getting better at analyzing your online data, and they’re starting to gather offline data – such as users’ financial records – to build a more robust data set for advertisers. Alas, these algorithms have grown so complex that nobody understands how they function anymore. As the algorithms work only if they have access to massive amounts of data, companies have an incentive to conduct “deep surveillance on all of us.”


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