In previous blogs, we have discussed the many advantages personalization presents to businesses. But the past few months have revealed the very real and dark side of personalization. The election season brought about complaints of fake news on sites like Facebook and Google. Even the president complained about this issue. (in a very different context).
One of the reasons Facebook acted cautiously in filtering out fake news was to avoid being too disproportionally left-leaning. Although fake news stories often had right-leanings, supporters on both sides read and believed articles with little to no truth to them. The fake news trend displays a relationship with personalization. Personalization can be extremely effective. But when it comes to information, it can have some severe drawbacks, as David Siegel pointed out in a piece published on Business Insider.
The Tech behind Infinite Personalization
The lowering cost of AI is leading to the increase in personalization. AI collects big data and learns common patterns in user activity. For social platforms and search engines, the technology works to tailor its experience to the user. We need to acknowledge what it is designed for: maximizing profit.
Infinite Personalization has One Goal = Improve the Bottom Line
For media sites, social sites, and search engines, the objective is to get users to return. This builds their networks, keeps users active, and maximizes profits as ads have more engagement, views, and impressions. For other businesses, personalization increases the likelihood of making a sale, as options are customized to better fit the consumers’ desires.
Digitally, Infinite Personalization Costs Little
In many cases, personalization is virtually cost-free when it comes to digital goods and services. Once algorithms/AI are developed, these services use new information and new data to improve. The technology will work on a massive scale and provide economies of scale for whatever investment on its development. So not only will it lead to maximized revenue, but the cost offsetting it is minimal. Even if technology misses the mark on customer preferences, little or no financial harm is done. The service will collect feedback and continue to improve.
Different is Not Always a Bad Thing
Take musical playlists, for example. Just because a user prefers rock music, doesn’t mean he or she will be turned off by a new rap song. Algorithms may think this is very different and outside the user preference, but very different doesn’t mean that the user won’t like it. Same goes for information.
Information is Lacking Commonality
Prior to the Information Age and our endless Internet use, Americans generally got their news from the same newspapers, TV networks, and magazines. Nowadays, our news is custom-designed on social networks, media sites, and search engines. This can be linked to the current division of viewpoints in the US. Gallup found that 77% of Americans view the nation as fundamentally divided on its most important values. We receive the same raw data, but personalization causes us to find heavily slanted articles based on our views.
Infinite Personalization is Creating Confirmation Bias
These websites are looking to validate our viewpoints for the purpose of our continued usage of their service. The bias of the reader replaced the bias of reporters and editors. This confirmation bias reinforces our own beliefs and gives us overconfidence in our own viewpoint. More importantly, it subliminally discredits contradicting beliefs.
Diversity is Healthy
Because our information is looking to confirm our own beliefs, social sites and media sites are filtering out opposing viewpoints. But missing the other side is unhealthy. It doesn’t allow us to challenge our own viewpoints and prevents us from understanding those politically different from us.
Infinite Personalization is on the Rise
Unfortunately, this trend is expected to continue. AI is getting smarter and will accurately predict our preferences more and more frequently. But this will prevent us from hearing new ideas or viewing something very different that we may like. Unless we can be wary of the information we see online, we’ll become increasingly divided.