FEATURE29 November 2023

Pulling the strings: Is our relationship with algorithms evolving?

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Algorithms have a huge influence on what we see online, getting personal in their recommendations and seemingly knowing us inside out. Now, some people are consciously adapting their behaviour to regain control. By Katie McQuater


Earlier this year, a BBC journalist wrote a report about how Netflix and Spotify seemed to ‘know’ she was bisexual before she herself did, when she reflected on the suggested recommendations she had received.

It exemplified how algorithms have become an intrinsic, increasingly personal part of contemporary online life, reading signals such as search history to serve us content, recommendations and advertising.

While they have a clear commercial imperative, algorithmic recommendations have democratised popular culture to an extent. Whereas 30 years ago, magazine reviews or the Official Charts might have been the only ways to discover new music, Spotify today offers a plethora of playlists tailored to individual tastes.

On the other hand, algorithms can also be a blunt tool, grouping people by obvious demographics and reinforcing stereotypes – leaving us feeling annoyed at being targeted with unsolicited weight-loss content in January, for example.

With increased awareness of algorithms in our lives, there is a shift towards reassessing the role they play ...