Not too long ago, Mark Zuckerberg ambushed and thrilled us once again with an entirely new concept of his outrageously popular social network, Facebook. It included the now widely-praised Timeline, along with various fresh content features, designed to bring us together even more than before. The concept was something like this – Zuckerberg et al. put forward a marketing strategy through which, via connecting with numerous informative and specialised internet portals and companies, the users would have the advantage of actually being „connected“ at all times by having insight into what everyone else was reading, listening to, where everyone else was and what they were doing there, for that matter. Nowadays, one gets to see decorated pictures by Instagram on Facebook, read what someone else read on Guardian, watch a movie someone rated on Rotten Tomatoes, or go to a place where someone else was at that moment, since they checked-in on Foursquare. All this, and much more, is publicly available information, of course, if you choose to share every moment of your life with your peers and „followers“ on diverse social media.
Although these „sharing“ applications are used by hundreds of millions, this is not where the symbiosis of life and human relationships with the marvels of internet ends. A popular new website, simply called ’Hunch’, predicts what you like and gives you advice on what to read, where to eat, and even what to wear!
Hunch is a so-called collective intelligence decision-making website, meaning it uses the „decision trees“ to make decisions based on users’ interests. It is in the process of building an all-encompassing ’taste graph’ for the entire internet by mapping every person to every entity, and subsequently analysing their affinity for that entity. It was launched in June 2009 and by Spring 2010 already had more than 1.5 million unique monthly visitor. It was acquired by eBay in Nov 2011 for a reported 80 million dollars.
Upon registering, the visitors are asked a series of questions about different topics in order for an initial analysis to be created. Afterward, the visitors are presented with a list of items they are asked to grade on the scale of 1-5, with the option to add comments and personal observations. Finally, should a user choose to log in through their Facebook account, Hunch will immediately analyse user’s existing ’likes’ and preferences and add them to the ever-growing database.
Once you start using Hunch, it will regularly update you with lists of things you might find compelling, leaving the option of you ’teaching’ it further by choosing between a number of items and specifying which ones are to your liking, along with answering questions such as „Do you enjoy shopping for clothes?“ and „ Do you support liberal or conservative politicians?“.
However, it does more than that; Hunch will also suggest a list of people for you to ’follow’, those who, according to website’s calculations, share the same interests and might become your ’friends’.
In conclusions, the options with Hunch are virtually limitless. The more questions you answer and the more options you click, the larger your digital intelligence print will become and the more will Hunch be able to suggest clothes, books, and restaurants you might enjoy. Still, this is but the beginning of possibilities with regard to exchanging online information. While Hunch seems benign and ’fun’ at first, it doesn’t take long for one to realise that this website, besides your name, age, location and social status (some of the questions are related to this, more or less vaguely), holds a list of your most personal preferences, such as which politicians you prefer and what you enjoy spending your money on. The more questions you answer and the more you click, the larger your ’file’ will be, which immediately rasises the concern about the enormous potential for misuse of this overabundance of data.
With this in mind, the idea of jotting down all individual preferences and connecting all the people around the globe simply through internet, bypassing candid, human interaction, seems like the least of our concerns.
Regardless of the laws and regulations that nominally guide websites like these, one should be extremely careful when sharing their most private data over the internet, especially if it is to be mapped and linked to others. Far smaller things than political preferences have compromised lives of many, and one can only wonder about the repercussions of the world finding out you enjoy reading Machiavelli’s The Prince, for example.