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This is quite chilling

(12 Posts)
PoochSmooch Sat 08-Apr-17 12:09:46

I've just finished reading this excellent piece from feminist current, and it actually physically gave me chills when I thought about all of the implications.

It's about the algorithms that companies use online to track you and store data about you, so they can tailor content to you, to flog you stuff. I've heard about this in the context of how it can create bubbles or echo chambers, but I've not previously picked up on the fact that it's a feminist issue.

I've posted it on another thread (the one about whether feminism is needed or not), so forgive me for copying a bit of that over here:

The article references an app that was proposed where you upload a picture of a woman that you like the look of, and it matches you to porn that features women that look like that woman for you. Does that sound ethical? What if you'd done some amateur porn and someone uses the facial recognition software to track you down and then blackmails you with it? Causes you to lose your job? What if the data that is tracked about you online causes the violent ex that you're trying to escape from to be able to find you? What about the fact that the algorithms that are being stored about you skew the result when you're looking for a job that means you don't even get to see the higher paid jobs in the first place? (this actually happens - see the refs in the article)

There are many more examples in the article, too. Has anyone come across any of these elements before? What do you think?

Datun Sat 08-Apr-17 12:44:40


My son is involved in this industry. And yes you will be provided with information when you google that is tailored to you personally.

You can delete your cookies. I will ask him if that does the trick completely, though.

I will also ask him about the ethical implications of that app you mention. It's an incredibly fast moving industry with technology becoming obsolete almost before it's implemented.

And I agree with you about an echo chamber. They ads that pop-up for me directly relate to what I have been googling. (A big eye-opener when I am on trans-threads!)

I know there is a level of profiling which attempts to filter unsuitable content, despite the algorithms.

I don't know exactly how it works, but for instance if you were googling rape statistics, as a feminist, and the word sex was coming up, it would be horrendous if you suddenly got an advert popping up for sexy underwear.

It's not that simple, but you get the drift. But you can bet your life, that absolutely no one is looking at this from a feminist angle. It will be all about the money.

But if you want to see more unbiased content, definitely delete your cookies on a regular basis.

Meanwhile I will ask my son to see if he is aware of this and has anything to add.

Prawnofthepatriarchy Sat 08-Apr-17 12:56:54

As I understand it, it was variants of this technology that Russia used to skew the American election. They identified Trump supporters an targeted them on social media with fake or very slanted news stories knowing that the individuals targeted would be highly likely to share them with their contacts. Having obtained voter information, including political affiliations, they fed people the sort of crap they knew fitted their world view and let them spread it around.

This technology is a feminist issue. It's also even broader than that. If external forces, whether commercial, political or misogynist, can create an echo chamber and feed us falsehood it makes it all the more important that we have a free press, respected news sources which we can trust, that exists outside the bubble.

PoochSmooch Sat 08-Apr-17 13:13:30

I'm fairly well locked down, datun (I hope!). There are all sorts of addons and extensions that you can use to minimise tracking. it's the way the technology is developing and where the ethical and feminist input is coming from (if it is?) that is concerning me, rather than just the individual impact.

That's where I've previously come across the issue too, prawn. I'd just never joined the dots the way the article does.

Another example I can think of is in AI. If future AI are being programmed from a starting point of mostly male teams, who are programming in biases that they're not even aware of, then the AIs will almost certainly maintain and expand on that bias. Is the end result sexist robots? If not, why not? What's being done to mitigate against it?

PoochSmooch Sat 08-Apr-17 13:15:18

this article is a good start if you're worried about being tracked online, it goes through the basics of how to minimise it if you're not super confident about what you're doing.

DJBaggySmalls Sat 08-Apr-17 13:15:36

That porn app is so obviously written for stalkers and abusers.

Some cookies are difficult to remove, so I use a sandbox. Sandboxie offer a version thats free for surfing the web.
Everything is removed when you close and empty the sandbox.

YetAnotherSpartacus Sat 08-Apr-17 13:57:36

For some reason I just get ads about cats and comfortable shoes.

DJBaggySmalls Sat 08-Apr-17 13:58:23

YetAnotherSpartacus I got a Damart leaflet through the door, I've never been so sad.

TeiTetua Sat 08-Apr-17 15:55:55

Three things I've done, all very easy, were:
- Adblock Plus added to the internet browser
- Tell browser to delete cookies on exit
- Install Facebook Purity as a browser add-on

But having skimmed through the site PoochSmooch recommended, I realise I'm just making the internet less annoying, not really making myself very secure. I just have faith that I'm not of much interest to anyone!

VestalVirgin Sat 08-Apr-17 16:02:55

I just have faith that I'm not of much interest to anyone!

That's more or less my method, too.

Though I think if I ever started to actually do any kind of activism, I'd have to be much more careful.

QuentinSummers Sat 08-Apr-17 16:24:26

I see if you type "women should" into Google now it doesn't autocomplete. I thought it was the uproar after that UN ad campaign, but maybe they are trying to stop the algorithms getting biased

PoochSmooch Sat 08-Apr-17 16:57:14

Interesting, quentin. It doesn't autofill for me either. Neither does "men should", FWIW.

I tried "women are..." instead. First hit? ...are always right grin (I'm taking that at face value). The next two - ...are like cats (eh?) and ...are boring (hmm).

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