With its special end-of-year message, Facebook wants to show you, over and over, what your year "looked like"; in Eric Meyer's case, the photo was of his daughter, who died this year: "For those of us who lived through the death of loved ones, or spent extended time in the hospital, or were hit by divorce or losing a job or any one of a hundred crises, we might not want another look at this past year."
To show me Rebecca’s face and say “Here’s what your year looked like!” is jarring. It feels wrong, and coming from an actual person, it would be wrong. Coming from code, it’s just unfortunate. These are hard, hard problems. It isn’t easy to programmatically figure out if a picture has a ton of Likes because it’s hilarious, astounding, or heartbreaking.
Algorithms are essentially thoughtless. They model certain decision flows, but once you run them, no more thought occurs. To call a person “thoughtless” is usually considered a slight, or an outright insult; and yet, we unleash so many literally thoughtless processes on our users, on our lives, on ourselves.
Where the human aspect fell short, at least with Facebook, was in not providing a way to opt out. The Year in Review ad keeps coming up in my feed, rotating through different fun-and-fabulous backgrounds, as if celebrating a death, and there is no obvious way to stop it. Yes, there’s the drop-down that lets me hide it, but knowing that is practically insider knowledge. How many people don’t know about it? Way more than you think.
Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty
Like Facebook, Livejournal was built in a bright student's dormroom; but unlike Facebook, LJ wasn't built "for nonconsensually rating the fuckability of stolen photos of undergrads," but rather as a community-minded platform for self-expression and connection-forging.
Ever since academic Shoshana Zuboff coined the term "Surveillance Capitalism" in 2015, it's become a touchstone for the debate over commercial surveillance (we've cited it hundreds of times). This week, Zuboff published her (very thick) book on the subject, to excellent early notices; I haven't read it yet, but it's next on my list.
Nineteen years ago today, Mark decided to do some research on the new Blogger service for an article in The Industry Standard, and so he created a blog and started posting to it (the Standard spiked the story, on the basis that blogging was probably a passing fad).
Building a website on WordPress has always been easy. But if you really want to make your website stand out from the growing crowd, you’re going to need some help. For our money, a subscription to Storeshock WordPress Themes & Elements does the trick almost as well as having a pro designer by your side […]
These days, there isn’t much our iPhone camera can’t do – except feel like an actual phone. Despite years of steadily increasing resolution and image sensing technology, we’re still taking shots awkwardly with two hands, fumbling for the shutter button. Leave it to an avid photographer to design Shuttercase, a versatile iPhone case that solves […]
Still determined to keep those New Year’s health resolutions? If you’re going to stick with the exercise plan, it’s enough of a challenge to budget your time. No need for your financial budget to take a hit, too. Here’s a more convenient – and cheaper – alternative to a gym membership or Peloton bike: Two […]