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The evolution of Google, YouTube and Facebook The evolution of Google, YouTube and Facebook
by Joseph Gatt
2020-01-18 10:08:51
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Up until around 2014, Google search results had the same rankings no matter where you were. If you typed “best burger in town” the search rankings would be the same whether you were in Sydney, Australia, or Auckland, New Zealand, or Des Moines, Iowa or Gaborone, Botswana. That is you could be in Toronto, Canada and the search result for “best burger in town” would be the best burger in New York City. Or the search result would be whichever burger joint around the world used the key words “best burger in town” and had the most clicks and visitors.

facyou_400Since 2014, Google, YouTube and Facebook used the 10 years plus data they had collected on users to provide “better services.” This meant that if you typed “best burger in town” you would get whatever burger joint gets the most clicks in your city, in some cases in your neighborhood. So if I were to type “best burger in town” myself being based in Algiers, I would be directed to the burger joint that is within 3 minutes of my place.

Now Google, YouTube and Facebook have been sharing data since 2014, meaning that people sometimes feel like Facebook, Google and YouTube can read their mind.

Let me give you a concrete example. I find Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard to be incredibly good looking. But I also disagree with pretty much everything she says, and find her conspiracy theories laughable. So on Facebook and YouTube, I will get recommendations for Tulsi Gabbard videos in which she looks at her finest, but will also get clips, documentaries or book recommendations debunking the conspiracy theories Gabbard seems to support.

How do Google, YouTube and Facebook know that? They noticed that when I checked Tulsi Gabbard's Wikipedia page, I skipped straight to her “private life” page and spent quite some time reading about her failed first marriage and her second marriage. They also noticed I searched who her husband was. They then noticed that I watched Tulsi Gabbard speak, but they then noticed that I would stop watching the minute Tulsi Gabbard rambled about conspiracy theories.

But here's how Facebook and YouTube can get political. They noticed that I'm not convinced by Tulsi Gabbard's rhetoric, but interested by her looks nonetheless. So what they do is recommend her campaign ads, and then they notice that when I watched one campaign ad, I did not watch subsequent campaign ads. When YouTube and Facebook finally noticed that Tulsi Gabbard's radical conspiracy mongering and fascination with trying to become “your commander in chief” seemed to upset my stomach more than anything else, Facebook and YouTube stopped offering recommendations for Tulsi Gabbard altogether.

But Facebook and YouTube also very much focus on the trends in your geographic area. In Algeria during day time, I will get recommendations for radical anti-Algerian-government content. In Algeria in the middle of the night, I will get recommendations for popular singers and Algerian pop-songs. In France during day time I will get recommendations for soccer or business news, while at night I will get recommendations for French pop-songs, political debates gone awry, or popular documentary shows and investigative reporting shows. In the US it's going to be football and baseball during the day, and late night talk shows and news shows at night.

Now to some scary stuff. In 2014 my relationship with my ex-girlfriend was pretty much going very sour. Facebook knew that, stopped putting my ex-girlfriend in the news feed, and put my ex-girlfriend at the very bottom of my friends' list. I also noticed that there were three friends of mine who were “Facebook junkies” and who I still followed because the content they kept posting was interesting of sorts, so I kept getting their uploaded content. If I did not read one of their posts, Facebook would make it reappear until I read it.

Even scarier? Facebook knew that there were three girls who seemed to be romantically interested in me. So Facebook would show those three girls' posts on my news feed, and would follow up the girl's content with ads for nice vacations, news clippings on two celebrities dating, or a video of a man proposing to his girlfriend.

Even scarier? If I typed the letter “A” in the search box, that girl who seemed to have a crush on me would be the first recommendation that Facebook would provide. In sum, don't waste your money on dating sites, Facebook does the trick better than any dating site, because Facebook knows exactly who's interested, and how much the person's interested.

Let's get even scarier. When I broke up with my ex- in June 2015, starting July 2015, YouTube kept recommending breakup songs that I had never really heard of. Having lived almost my entire life outside the US, as much as I know a lot about Korean or French music, my knowledge of US pop music was sketchy at best. What did YouTube help me discover? Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2U, Adele's Hello and Green Day's Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

Let's get a tiny little bit scarier. YouTube knows that whenever I go on clandestine trips to Israel, I tend to binge on Hebrew shows with English subtitles. The minute Google knows I'm headed to Israel, I get a deluge of Hebrew shows with English subtitles. Once in Israel, I tend to listen to North African Jewish music and local Israeli music, which is what YouTube offers.

In sum, YouTube, Google and Facebook know you a lot better than any family member or friend will ever know you. Now how does my mother know that mushrooms in black bean sauce with green onions is one of my favorite dishes of all time and that I love anything with teriyaki sauce, despite not having met my mother in 35 years, is beyond my understanding. Only Jewish mothers can beat Google.


   
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