Trust in recommendation systems

On the Internet is so many information which no one can consume it all. That's why almost every bigger page uses some type of recommendation system. To find what user likes and filter out undesirable content. For example look at Facebook—you would need at least half a day to read everything what just your friends shares. Google does that as well with Google Play Music, YouTube or even maps or search engine! Last one is actually called personalized search. Also Twitter for some time plays with „best Tweets“ or „in case you missed it“ which totally changes your timeline. Not even mentioning e-shops like Amazon or ad platforms.

Trend is clear. We all are just bunch of numbers in different databases and when we came to some web page, it will do some crazy math behind and show content which we probably want. Question is—can we trust in those numbers representing us?

I don't know.

I currently work on one recommendation system at Seznam.cz and I also build my own „general Internet reader which will sort automatically content by my preferences“. I'm saying that only to mention that I know little bit about those systems and it somehow shapes my point of view about trust.

And my point of view is: I don't trust them.

I'm little bit scared what some pages can do with those system. They can basically change our thinking. They can keep us in some kind of social bubble. I know it's the worst scenario but there are also everyday scenarios like when I mark I don't like something and something is similar to it, there is chance I will not see it! Or worst I will not able to easily find it.

And that's why I block 3rd-party cookies. I block not ads but everything what can track me. I don't follow anything at Facebook. I don't use YouTube recommendation. I don't care about Twitter's best Tweets for me. Actually I moved Twitter feed to my app. I don't dislike songs at Google Music. I am careful about clicking to anything which could fire some kind of signal about me, some kind of number to equations which will try to do the best to recommend me something else.

The most craziest thing about that is probably that I do that also with systems I'm programming. At work I don't use it at all and at home I know exact meaning of all signals so I am very caution about what I'm clicking at.

Actually my little project helps me to understand this new era and see all problems about it. It's very hard to do it well and I think it's similar to security. When security is messed up, users are hurt. Same applies to recommendation systems. But there is bigger problem—everyone is trying best to make the best possible security but the best recommendation system does not mean better revenue. And that's probably why generally I don't trust them and try to avoid them.

There are only two systems I trust now. Google personalized search because I never had problem with it (yet) and my own reader because I know every bit of it.