The ease of shopping, watching video, and listening to music on the internet has become one of the biggest conveniences for consumers in the 21st century. With a few clicks, we can “window shop” online, read a couple of pages of a new book, or download the latest album. While internet commerce provides a great benefit to us, we rarely think about how Google can guess what we’re searching for or how Amazon.com knows what products we might be interested in buying. The answer is web algorithms.
Web algorithms are complex mathematical formulas that websites use to figure out the probability of our interests. Google uses algorithms to sort through unhelpful search engine results. A recent update called “Panda” caused a big stir earlier this year because it tweaked the company’s previous algorithm to remove search results that some considered to be low-quality, negatively impacting several websites.
Other websites such as Match.com also use web algorithms to pair up users with individuals of like interests and hobbies, which is crucial to its business model. Amazon.com analyzes web algorithms based on your previous purchases and the purchasing habits of other shoppers who’ve bought the same items as you to come up with a list of “recommendations” for you. Facebook performs a similar function to decide which items to display at the top of your news feed each day.
Some web analysts have voiced concerns about letting corporations “guess” our interests and likes online, saying that these companies are being allowed to impact consumers’ behaviors by suggesting which items they’d like – sort of a subliminal form of advertising. Others have expressed worry that companies could use these types of formulas for insidious purposes, including tracking of personal habits and actions.
Image c/o: thms.nl