Corporations and government are using information about us in a new – and newly insidious – way. Employing massive data files, much of the information taken from the Internet, they profile us, predict our good or bad character, credit worthiness, behavior, tastes, and spending habits – and take actions accordingly.
As a result, millions of Americans are now virtually incarcerated in algorithmic prisons.
Some can no longer get loans or cash checks. Others are being offered only usurious credit card interest rates. Many have trouble finding employment because of their Internet profiles. Others may have trouble purchasing property, life, and automobile insurance because of algorithmic predictions. Algorithms may select some people for government audits, while leaving others to find themselves undergoing gratuitous and degrading airport screening.
An estimated 500 Americans have their names on no-fly lists. Thousands more are targeted for enhanced screening by the Automated Targeting System algorithm used by the Transportation Security Administration. By using dataincluding “tax identification number, past travel itineraries, property records, physical characteristics, and law enforcement or intelligence information” the algorithm is expected to predict how likely a passenger is to be dangerous.
Algorithms also constrain our lives in virtual space. They determine what products we will be exposed to. They analyze our interests and play an active role in selecting the things we see when we go to a particular website..
Eli Pariser, argues in The Filter Bubble, “You click on a link, which signals your interest in something, which means you are more likely to see articles about that topic” and then “You become trapped in a loop…” The danger being that you emerge with a very distorted view of the world.