The Annoyances of the Web Trying to Personalize You

Posted on January 17, 2013 10:30 AM by Rob Williams

As I discussed yesterday, the Internet can be a great place for a ton of reasons. Online, things that once would have seemed impossible can be proven to us within seconds. That said, with the good comes the bad – and if there’s a perfect area to look for the bad (as in annoyances), it’s social networks.

In a story posted to Engadget by Joshua Fruhlinger, points are raised about the annoyances that come about when social networks try to recommend us something. In gist, if our connected friends like something, then it’s a good bet that I’ll like it, too. Every day, Facebook piles on ads that don’t even look like ads – <Your Friend> likes <Some Product>. As a real example, one of my best friends “liked” Capital One on Facebook, so I saw a recommendation. In reality, my rate of interest in Capital One is actually quite low, so what good did it do recommending it to me? There’s also the fact that I doubt he “liked” it at all, but that’s another story in itself.


Josh sums the problem up well: “I get it. Maybe my best friend and I are best friends because we share common interests. We both think Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is a killer movie, so when he mentions on Facebook that he loved Prometheus, when I search for “movies my friends like,” it should weigh that one pretty heavily. But here’s the thing — I already asked him, and the chances that I’m going to be so desperate for a social recommendation that I’ll turn to my social networks for something to do is, at least in my case, slim to none.

Personally, I find Facebook and YouTube to be the worst offenders here. On YouTube, if I subscribe to someone’s channel, it results in their favorites being leaked into my main feed. Again, just because I like someone who posts game reviews doesn’t mean I want to see their favorite music video. In the event I do want to be recommended anything, I’ll just use a dedicated service which will no doubt give me a better experience – such as for music. Heck, I’d quicker Google something.

What are your thoughts? Are you tired of “recommendations” appearing in your face all the time?

  • Marfig

    It doesn’t really bother me because… well, I don’t use social networks.

    The more I hear about them, of course, even less I’m interested on them. What I do find a tad bit strange though is their prevalence. You see, I never lost contact with anyone because of it. People know about me and I about them, when I want them to know and when they want me to know. And only about the things I and them want each other to know. So, my world isn’t any less “social” because I didn’t adhere to the craze. I find, for that reason, a little bit hard to to swallow any of the justifications to using them. Sure, if you have a business or your life actually depends on being marketed. Otherwise, don’t use them.

    I think, by adhering to a social network, one will have to accept that they will be marketing their life. That’s why social networks are so good for companies that adhere to them. That’s how social networks eventually evolved, despite the always strong resistance of a small but representative number of its users. They are marketing a user life. So, I’ll probably sound a bit of an asshole when I say, live with it. It’s what you chose. There’s a whole world out there, made of emails, forums, IRC, NNTP, IM, discussion groups, specialized websites of all kinds where people can meet and talk. And there’s also the real world where relationships can and still should be established with a stronger link than that of any internet experience. Social Networks are a corruption of a once nice and interesting concept.

    Sticking to them is their biggest achievement in fact. It demonstrates how addictive they became to some people who don’t really understand they can live without them. That all of that “but I need to stay connected” is one of the biggest lies on the internet. If not the biggest.

  • Kayden

    I am sick of “recommendations” on anything tbh. Let’s say I have a problem or need advice on a product and need to search for it, why am I seeing recommendations for things that don’t even cater to what I am searching for? Like when I searched for a PSU I got recommended for a microwave, subwoofer, a efuel generator and etc, HUH? I can understand that ads drive many things on the net but why did they include the Amazon Sports section?

    That’s another problem I have is ads on web searches. Google is the worst offender omfg, a simple search for Firefox will provide you with a first link that goes to an ad site which provides nothing but bloatware or malicious software included in it. At least Bing will put it off to the side but when your in a rush or don’t know what your doing, like many users who don’t look for apps often, will get screwed by this.

    I know that it seems a bit of a stretch to consider these recommendations but any business that puts ads above the content your looking for is targeting you personally based on information you provided, that can turn out to be malicious and I don’t like it.

    Therefore I don’t see recommendations as anything but a new way to generate ad revenue for a business and social media, has lied and will continue, to recommend things that people don’t even like in the first place. It will just be a matter of time before these social networks will have influence about your personal details and target you everywhere, Bing has all ready started doing it, what makes you think it wont happen everywhere else?

  • Joe Sullivan

    Facebook’s not totally without merit, at least for me. But it’s gotten worse now that you never really know whether anyone will see your updates. And there’s the fact that it’s basically one big advertisement.

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