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Is the Internet manipulating users?

Tristan Harris, an engineer who has worked at Apple and Google, where he was a specialist in matters of ethics and “human persuasion”, has founded Center for Humane Technology, an NGO whose objective is “to reverse human disorder” (human downgrading) and “return to align technology with humanity”.

The word of a specialist

Harris, is – according to Gizmodo, a blog specializing in “gadgets and new technologies” published in the United States by Gawker Media – one of the most effective spokesmen for the concern about methods and dark patterns (cunning used to do things that do not we want, how to sign up on a website) that large Internet companies use to deceive and manipulate Internet users.

This issue of widespread manipulation is currently the subject of a debate in the US Senate following the bill proposed by Nebraska Senator Deb Fisxher and Virginia Senator Mark Wagner, to prohibit such practices.

Is the business model changing?

If successful, the proposed law called Detour Act (Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction) will force many companies to change their business model. According to Senator Mark Wagner: “For years, social networks rely on a whole panoply of tools and cunning to force users to communicate their personal data, without being really aware of what they are giving their consent to. Our goal, which is very simple, is to install greater transparency in a very opaque market, and to make consumers able to make conscious decisions about how to share their information”.

Like many other specialists, Tristan Harris has been called by the Senate commission to give his opinion on the law. Relying on different examples, he has made a terrifying summary of the intricacies of our online navigation, and the way it is influenced by methods, designs and algorithms that we ignore everything, both when we jump innocently from one page to another. Internet, as when we publish a profile on Facebook or make a comment on Twitter.

Internet, the new casino

“This works like a coin machine, with addiction capabilities similar to those that act on players in Las Vegas”, according to Harris’s statement in the Senate, reproduced by Gizmondo. One shot of dopamine after another, one reward after another, is creating an addition based on “likes” and the number of followers on social networks.

In his appearance before the Senate committee that studies the Detour Act, Harris presented his theory of the “digital avatar”: a double algorithm that every Internet user has on the anonymous servers of the large platforms, which allows Internet giants “to know each other better of what we know ourselves, and therefore manipulate our desires, actions and reactions”.

Apparently, this algorithmic science progresses at high speed, like that of artificial intelligence (AI): “Without even having access to your data,” Harris assured his audience, “I can predict more and more of you using AI”.


Also published on Medium.

Published inTechnology

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