Why I Don’t Trust Recommendation Systems

en in code • 3 min read
Mind the age! Most likely, its content is outdated. Especially if it’s technical.

I liked Google Now. Liked. With the new Android, it’s changed and isn’t very useful anymore. Before, you could just swipe to the left on your home screen and see all the essential stuff. Like how much time it takes you to go to work right now. Or when is your meeting? How is traffic? Updates about your flight. Hotel reservations. Exchange rate. They even notified you about the most important stuff.

It was scary but convenient. At least for those who travel a lot. (Scary in a way how much Google knows about you.)

And they changed it. All important stuff is hidden behind one more click, and even when I open that section, there is not as much as before. In place of all useful stuff, they placed feed of articles Google thinks you would like. Well, it can be useful as well, to stay updated. But…

…but when I upgraded to the new Android, there was a new Marvel movie, and I was looking for some info. Of course, Google though, “hey, he likes Marvel!” and very quickly, I stayed in the Marvel bubble. I even didn’t want to click on any of those articles, but I was used to finding important stuff by sliding to the left, and then whenever I did that, I saw some tempting title. I would say clickbait.

A good recommendation system would do the best not to keep you in some bubble. Well, Google did. I didn’t want to use it, and so Google kept showing me news about Marvel movies. Google started to care only about what I clicked on in that feed and not what I was searching for. The totally different attitude from previous Google Now functionality. Two years ago, my phone could detect that I regularly go every Wednesday to the same place at the same hour just based on my location and after few weeks I got a card saying I should go sooner because traffic is worse that day than usual. Today I’m in some weird bubble.

Of course, I noticed that and wanted to turn off that feature. To see again directly useful cards. And you guess correctly, there was no way how to turn it off. Google created helpful something to get us used to swipe left, and then they changed that to something which can bring Google a lot of money.

Finally, with the latest Android (at least on Pixel phone), you can turn it off. If you like yourself, swipe left, touch three dots, settings and then under Your feed uncheck Show feed. Then the screen will stay blank; there will be no cards as before. At least it will stop trying to seduce you.

As you can see, not even Google can do a recommendation system well. And this is one example why I don’t trust them. I don’t follow anyone on Twitter or Facebook or YouTube, I don’t read any page aggregating articles, nothing. I created my own reader with the support of RSS, Twitter, YouTube, and so on with my system of how I want to prioritize articles. It’s not perfect and needs some help from the user, but at least I’m not in the bubble.

I think everybody should ignore and disable (if possible) any feed managed by someone else than you.

P.S.: If you would like to try my app, well, it runs on my personal server. I could give you an invitation token, feel free to write to me, but I cannot promise anything. :-) Anyway, this post is not about my app, but about the problems with recommendation systems.

2 responses

Do you have your reader app on Github?

@Messa: No, I don't even planing that at all, sorry. I was thinking to make it (website, not the code) public for everyone but, at least for now, I don't want to deal with servers and find ways how to monetise it to keep it running so I decided to have it really just for me and few more people.

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