Boon or Bane—The Internet’s Polarizing Secret Revealed

As the world continues to port everything online (thanks to Covid-19), algorithms—or sets of rules and processes put up to gather information—become more intelligent, and to some extent, more disturbingly capable.

According to a 2015 study by the University of Cambridge and Stanford University, web algorithms can evaluate an individual’s psyche quite precisely just by examining the person’s likes on, say, Facebook.

Such powerful algorithms give way for online entities—corporations, advertisers, headhunters—to access what psychologists call the “Big Five” dimensions of personality.

These dimensions, namely openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion/introversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, represent the very nature of an individual. Depending on how an individual uses the Internet, this personality evaluation ability of algorithms can either be a boon or a bane.

Your computer knows you better than your friends do

Your computer, including your mobile devices, can be a better judge of your character than your family or close friends, research has shown.

Now if you feel like this is a prelude to a dystopian Terminator era, your fears are actually not unfounded. All your computer needs is the right input data – namely the thumbs-up and heart clues left by someone’s Facebook “likes”.

The all-encompassing web algorithms “mine” for these likes, searching the vastness of cyberspace just to get hints of your preferences and ultimately predict your personality more accurately than friend and family.

Only your hubbies and wives can rival these semi-sentient computers’ ability to sum up broad psychological traits.

For instance, algorithms are proven useful for both online shoppers and merchants. Every tick is an indication of a personal preference, concludes the joint study by Cambridge and Stanford.

If a user likes to browse wedding dresses, a spring collection from Vera Wang or Dela Renta will most likely appear in the next few days or even hours.

The study’s lead author Ms. Wu Youyou, from Cambridge’s Psychometrics Center, remarked: “In the future, computers could be able to infer our psychological traits and react accordingly, leading to the emergence of emotionally intelligent and socially skilled machines.

“In this context, the human-computer interactions depicted in science fiction films such as Her [and Ex-Machina] seem to be within our reach.” The Joaquin Phoenix starrer revolves around a man who develops a close relationship with Samantha, an ultra-intelligent computer operating system with near-human sentience.

More than meets the eye

But Facebook or browsing activities are by no means the only data that can be used to evaluate your personality.

In a 2018 research by Sabrina Hoppe, a computer scientist from the University of Stuttgart in Germany, eye movements are proven to be indicators of the human psyche.

Researchers from Hoppe’s study were able to predict four of the Big Five dimensions correctly, just by fitting students with eye trackers, who then walked around the campus and went shopping.

This would prove to be a huge deal due to a growing number of smartphones using eye-tracking components—either as a biometric tool or for additional accessibility features.

Apple’s iPhones and Samsung’s Galaxy S and Note series of smartphones, for example, utilize iris scanners for security.

Taking care of your privacy

In the end, if we will be careless, our privacy might be compromised. Cambridge Analytica’s case is a prime example of privacy-breaching algorithmic personality profiling. The company is now defunct, as it jeopardized private data of more than 80 million Facebook users, the worst privacy-related crisis in Internet history.

To be able to utilize the power of the Internet, you need access to a safe and secure platform that will allow you to engage and interact with internet users without compromising their privacy. BigCommerce, known for its world-class security against unwanted data mining, offers the best platform for most merchants who want to provide safe shopping to their customers. Learn more about BigCommerce’s award-winning features here.