Category Archives: Internet

Researching advertising algorithms

Almost two years ago, I published my personal contribution to the “Google’s Autocompletion algorithms discriminate against women” debate by adding some context about Google and about algorithms.

Today, I could write something very similar regarding the headlines informing us that, according to a recent study, Google’s advertising algorithms discriminate against women. And it is probably a handy opportunity to let you know that my phd research in social sciences – still ongoing – is precisely about interaction with Google’s advertising algorithms…

However, this blog post is not going to be about my research. But when I saw the headlines about “discriminating advertising algorithms” I simply couldn’t *not* blog about it.

Luckily, WIRED has already taken care of asking the very same question I asked in my 2013 blog post about Google’s autocompletion algorithms: who or what is to blame? In a short but discerning piece WIRED explains the complex configuration of Google AdSense:

Who—or What’s—to Blame?
While the study’s findings would suggest Google is enabling discrimination, the situation is much more complicated.

Currently, Google allows advertisers to target their ads based on gender. That means it’s possible for an advertiser promoting high-paying job listings to directly target men. However, Google’s algorithm may have also determined that men are more relevant for the position and made the decision on its own. And then there’s the possibility that user behavior taught Google to serve ads in this manner. It’s impossible to know if one party here is to blame or if it’s a combination of account targeting from all sources at play.

This configuration has allowed powerful companies to present their services as ‘platforms’, phenomenal and simultaneously neutral vessels of communication filled by numerous individual users’ actions only. Continue reading

Technology, innovation and society: five myths debunked

Recently, I held a lecture about the digital transformation for the franco-swiss CAS/EMBA program in e-tourism. The tourism industry not being my specialty, and the “social media” aspects having been thoroughly covered by colleagues,Media Technology old and new I had been specifically asked to convey a big picture view.

I chose to address some overall issues related to ICT (information & communication technology), innovation and society by debunking the following five myths:

  1. Ignoring the digital transformation is possible
  2. Technological progress is linear
  3. Connectivity is a given
  4. Virtual vs. “real” life
  5. Big Data – the answer to all our questions

Each of these points would deserve an treatise on its own, and I will not be able to go into much details in the scope of this article. I nevertheless wanted to share some of the links and references mentioned during my lecture and related to these issues. If you prefer reading the whole thing in French, please go to Enjeux technologiques et sociaux: cinq idées reçues à propos du numérique, which is the corresponding (but not literally translated) article in French.

Myth no. 1: Ignoring the digital transformation is possible

While discussions of online social networks have become mainstream, the digital transformation goes way beyond social media. It is about more than visible communication. It is about automation, computation, and algorithms. And as I have written before: algorithms are more than a technological issue because they involve not only automated data analysis, but also decision-making. In 1961 already, C.P. Snow said:

«Those who don’t understand algorithms, can’t understand how the decisions are made.»

In order to illustrate the vastness of computation and algorithmic automation I mentioned Frédéric Kaplan’s information mushroom (“champignon informationnel”), my explorations of Google Autocomplete, as well as the susceptibility of a job to be made redundant in the near future by machine learning and mobile robotics (cf. this scientific working paper, or the interactive visualisation derived from it).

Myth no. 2: Technological progress is linear

This point included a little history including sociology of knowledge and innovation studies.

Continue reading

[French] Enjeux technologiques et sociaux: 5 idées reçues à propos du numérique

Exceptionally, this article is in French. English speaking readers might want to head over to Technology, innovation and society: five myths debunked.

Cet article esquisse mon intervention dans un module de formation EMBA / CAS il y a quelques jours. Le but était de sensibiliser les participants aux enjeux des technologies de l’information comme sources d’innovations majeures et de les rendre attentifs à quelques enjeux sociaux des TIC. Afin qu’un tour d’horizon aussi vaste soit un tant soit peu digeste, j’ai décidé de le présenter en cinq chapitres qui démontent certaines idées reçues à propos du numérique:

  1. Il est possible d’ignorer le numérique
  2. Le progrès technologique est linéaire
  3. La connectivité est un acquis
  4. Il y a le virtuel et il y a la “vraie vie”
  5. Les “big data”: la solution à tout

En voici ci-dessous la présentation, et ensuite quelques phrases explicatives avec liens/références.

La présentation:

Idée reçue no. 1: Il est possible d’ignorer le numérique

Le domaine du numérique est souvent considéré uniquement dans une perspective communication/marketing, une perspective parfois réduite aux seuls sujets des sites web et des réseaux sociaux en ligne. Et alors qu’il est possible pour une entreprise notamment de se passer d’une page facebook en toute cohérence avec sa stratégie, il n’en est pas de même avec la dynamique et l’évolution numérique au sens large. Ce parce que la révolution numérique ne concerne de loin pas que les “social media”. Elle comprend toute sorte d’automatisation algorithmique. Une citation parlante à ce sujet a été dit par C.P. Snow en 1961 déjà et je l’avais reprise dans un billet précédent (en anglais) il y a deux ans et demi:

«Those who don’t understand algorithms, can’t understand how the decisions are made.»

Illustrant quelques enjeux d’automatisation algorithmique, j’ai mentionné le “champignon informationnel” de Frédéric Kaplan, mes explorations de Google Autocomplete, et les calculs de la “probabilité de remplaçabilité” d’un emploi (provenant d’un working paper scientifique, transformés en visualisation interactive) grâce aux avancées dans les domaines du machine learning et de la robotique mobile.

Idée reçue no. 2: Le progrès technologique est linéaire

Pour ce point, une petite plongée dans la sociologie de la connaissance et de la technologie:

Continue reading

Internet, Power and Semantics

Millions of links are shared on Twitter each day.

A fraction of these links end up in my timeline, shared (and sometimes authored) by the accounts I follow. Most of the time, they point me to great articles I might have missed otherwise.

Below you can find links to some of these articles.

I have selected them for their originality and relevance. They have all been brought to my attention via Twitter and provide crucial insights into various issues  related to the internet:

I urge you to read them now. All of them.

“Adult” TLD .xxx is just the beginning

Do you watch internet pornography? Chances are you do: worldwide, there are 72 million visitors monthly to pornographic web sites, and 42.7% of internet users view adult entertainment.

Before you start arguing about statistics, their meaning, their biases, know this: I agree with being critical – but the point I’m trying to make doesn’t depend on the figures.

A lot of online adult entertainment is watched by a lot of people. That’s a fact. Just check out the most popular sites of your country, and you will probably find a couple of pornographic sites among the top 50. They occurr usually clustered, starting e.g. around position 40 for the US, position 30 for France and Great Britain, position 25 for Germany, and position 20 for Switzerland and Italy at the time of writing.

Another fact: The ICANN has authorized, a few months ago, the (sponsored) top-level domain .xxx – after a decade of debate. Continue reading

VoD & Social Web – some basics

I have written before about why basic education about digital is needed.

This diagnosis was not only one of the significant results of my Master Thesis. I also experience every day in my work that many people know very little about computers, the internet etc. Basic knowledge is lacking.

There are many reasons for this lack of knowledge. One of these reasons: there is a lot to learn and there is tons of “learnable” stuff around. Even if you wanted to start learning today, you may not know where to start.

Because: How do you know what you should learn if you don’t even know what you could learn?

The presentation I have given last week for FOCAL to Swiss film industry people has been conceived with exactly this logic in mind, i.e. with respect to the state of knowledge about digital I have been observing within the last years. The very positive feedback I received afterwards by the participants themselves – which is always appreciated – has been encouraging.

Don’t get me wrong: these professionals know their trade. Some of them have decades of experience in the film industry. However, their trade is not what it used to be: digital has been – and will keep! – changing this industry in a profound way. And it is more difficult to take step two if you have never taken step one…

Here are the presentation “slides” [in German only – well, with a lot of English expressions anyway]:

PS: My part was only one piece of the puzzle: I’ve had 4 great co-presenters. A follow-up article on the entire workshop is coming soon to a theatre near you website well known to you.

Top picture by S Richards Photography

Digital reality: education needed

There are still many people who do not seem to be aware of the impact and the potential of internet. People who use it, probably, but who have not adopted it.

You surely know who I’m talking of: the teacher who thinks Facebook is evil… the marketing person who has never even thought about putting an ad on Google or Facebook… the politician who tweets only during election campaign… the people who still don’t know a bcc-field in e-mails exists… Continue reading