Algorithmic Culture in Media and Computing
In computer science, the word “algorithm” simply refers to a step-by-step procedure for accomplishing a given task: “lather, rinse, repeat.” But as human activity is increasingly electronically mediated, its meaning has deepened, as common experiences of work, leisure, culture, social relationships, and even reality itself are being directed by algorithms that are executed by computers, to significant effect.
We produce so much information today, yet the processes by which it is created and delivered are becoming more opaque. An increasing list of our actions, movements, and most of what we type or photograph is now manipulated, toward ends we cannot see. Software is often designed to collect and sell personal data to be used for advertising, or the software itself is an advertisement intended to produce purchases.
Commercial algorithmic platforms can create complex economic incentives and technical dynamics that routinely lead to situations where the interests of those creating the software systems are at odds with our own. Advertising-driven platforms act against us, under the guise of offering help and guidance. Flashlight apps secretly track and sell your location and Facebook takes your “likes” and places ads on your friends’ pages.
This algorithmic explosion allows for a new level of real-time personalization and content selection on an individual basis that just wasn’t possible before. But rather than use these tools to serve our authentic interests, we have built a system that often works to our disadvantage. In Corrupt Personalization, Christian Sandvig, professor at the School of Information at University of Michigan explores what happens when algorithms corrupt personalization, allowing it to serve interests other than our own.
Corrupt Personalization is an eye-opening guide to what it means when more and more of our actions, movements, and communication is now logged, sorted, analyzed, republished, and repurposed. It offers a thoughtful look at how we can regain control over how our information is used.