December 10, 2003

When Personalization Technologies Attack

When personalization technologies attack! Basil Iwanyk tried (unsuccessfully) to deal with his TiVo run amok:

JEFFREY ZASLOW: Basil Iwanyk is not a neo-Nazi.... But... [he] live[s] with a machine... TiVo, the digital videorecorder that records some programs it just assumes its owner will like, based on shows the viewer has chosen to record. A phone call the machine makes to TiVo, Inc., in San Jose, Calif., once a day provides key information.... [W]hen TiVo thinks it has you pegged, there's just one way to change its "mind": outfox it.

Mr. Iwanyk, 32 years old, first suspected that his TiVo thought he was gay, since it inexplicably kept recording programs with gay themes. A film studio executive in Los Angeles and the self-described "straightest guy on earth," he tried to tame TiVo's gay fixation by recording war movies and other "guy stuff." "The problem was, I overcompensated," he says. "It started giving me documentaries on Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Eichmann. It stopped thinking I was gay and decided I was a crazy guy reminiscing about the Third Reich."...

I'm thinking about this right now because it seems that Google--at least from the ads it places--has decided that I am (or my readers are) ideological soulmates of D*v*d Br**ks. I'm not sure what to do. I can't write things like, "The overrated D*v*d Br**ks's writings are jejune where they are not transparently manipulative"--Google is not smart enough (or so I think) to distinguish a negative from a positive reference. If I even spell out the name D*v*d Br**ks it will only reinforce whatever in Google's mind is associating my website with him.

What can I do?

Posted by DeLong at December 10, 2003 08:08 PM | TrackBack


Does this mean you don't want us to type "David Brooks" in the comments?

Posted by: ogged on December 10, 2003 08:40 PM



Posted by: Brad DeLong on December 10, 2003 09:03 PM


The kind of people who read this weblog are the kind of people who want to buy stuff by That Man. Sorry, but you're screwed.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on December 10, 2003 09:07 PM


"But I only watched 'Will And Grace' one time one day
Wish I hadn't 'cause TiVo now thinks I'm gay"
-Weird Al Yankovic "Couch Potato"

Posted by: Stephen on December 10, 2003 09:13 PM


I'd wondered why all the Br**ks google ads were there. FYI I don't see any right now.

Posted by: jimBOB on December 10, 2003 09:19 PM


Really, just give it time and it will go away. Unless you keep talking about David Brooks. In which case, Google is just doing what it's supposed to be doing.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on December 10, 2003 09:21 PM


Brad DeLong writes:
>"The overrated D*v*d Br**ks's writings are jejune where
> they are not transparently manipulative"--Google is not
> smart enough (or so I think) to distinguish a negative
> from a positive reference. If I even spell out the name
> D*v*d Br**ks it will only reinforce whatever in Google's
> mind is associating my website with him.
> What can I do?

1) Do NOT treat that name like it was, oh, Y*w*h. That's an absolute no-no.

2) Follow your own previous advice and subvert the dominant internet linkage hierarchy. If enough dubious sites link to, er, "he who shall not be named", then the impact is lessened.

3) Failing that, always throw a random phrase into your web page that will delight your friends and confound your enemies. Or, if the problem is your google search that turns up the David Brooks "one of 150 thought leaders under exclusive representation of Voldemort and the Deatheaters" sponsored link, then inclue additional words that ensure this link moves down the list. Suggestions include:

David Brooks Brothers
David Brooks Restoration Hardware
David Brooks Paris Hilton

Basically, anything that puts somebody else's sponsored link ahead of his. OK, so maybe this achieves nothing, but there's a 1 in 100 chance that somebody in the media will read this message and get a column out of it. Call it sad, call it funny, but it's better than even money that its David Brooks who is rising to that call.

Posted by: Jonathan King on December 10, 2003 09:26 PM


Erase your cookies

Posted by: CalDem on December 10, 2003 09:32 PM


Alexander Cockburn Alexander Cockburn Alexander Cockburn Alexander Cockburn Alexander Cockburn Alexander Cockburn Alexander Cockburn.

Oughta fix it.

Just to be sure, though,

Ralph Nader Ralph Nader Ralph Nader Ralph Nader Ralph Nader Ralph Nader Ralph Nader Ralph Nader.

Posted by: Zizka on December 10, 2003 10:04 PM


Robert Fisk Robert Fisk Robert Fisk Robert Fisk Robert Fisk Robert Fisk Robert Fisk Robert Fisk

But if that doesn't work, just learn to love David, Brad. He IS the Queen of Sheba. (Thanks, BBB.)

Posted by: Dick Durata on December 10, 2003 10:08 PM


Hello, I'm Pamela Anderson. I'm a picture of Pamela Anderson. I'm Demi Moore. I'm Cameron Diaz and Demi Moore together with pamela Anderson.

Posted by: Julian Elson on December 10, 2003 10:18 PM


It's simple. Just become important enough that D--- B---- starts getting ads targeted at people who like to read your stuff ;)

Posted by: Bones on December 10, 2003 10:56 PM


Grin and bear it; there is not much else you can do on this believe me. Here is what happened:

I thought I'd advise you to find a way and connect to Brooks Shields. Then I wasn't sure if I got the name right and so I fed it to Google. This was what Google returned top of the list:

Online NewsHour:Shields&Brooks.

Here is the link to that Google page:

I'm afraid the situation is hopeless.

Posted by: Bulent Sayin on December 11, 2003 12:27 AM


Maybe detecting irony is the ultimate Turing test.

Posted by: James on December 11, 2003 12:40 AM


Everybody hates David Brooks.
don't they?

Posted by: bryan on December 11, 2003 01:47 AM


Huh. I thought it was because of the kids, the world's silliest dog, shopping tips and free trade advocacy.

Brooks is not the world's worst lifestyle columnist.

Posted by: bad Jim on December 11, 2003 02:17 AM


We do it on purpose

Posted by: The CDR on December 11, 2003 02:18 AM


Huf! Now they have sponsored links on chemicals and stock shares! I mean that is really not a whole lot more fun than you know who!

Maybe we should discuss wine and cheese for a while? And cosmetics sector maybe?

Posted by: Bulent Sayin on December 11, 2003 04:18 AM


Presumably, Google decided that we want to link to DB by using the latest and greatest algorithms for Baysian inference.. So what you are getting from Google is the estimate of our 'likeliest' interest. However, this will run into what might be called unBayes Theorem: Rare events are more common than you expect them to be.

Posted by: Matt on December 11, 2003 04:23 AM


Lobby for Google to provide you access to their rules engine and database (only to records relating to you, of course). They know they heuristics sometimes fail, like you are experiencing.
In many European countries, regulation and public opinion force companies to provide read and modification access to all records a company has about you. In many cases, they aren't even allowed to collect information about you unless you opt-in. (American) Search engines don't even allow you to opt-out...

Posted by: Pedro on December 11, 2003 05:00 AM


By the way, provides something on those lines. When you are given recommendations, there's a link you can follow to let you know why is Amazon recommending that.
In case a recommendation is not of your liking, you can tell Amazon to disregard that info for future recommendations.
(No, I don't work for Amazon, but that is pretty slick!)

Posted by: Pedro on December 11, 2003 05:07 AM


There is a deeper point to ponder. Can TiVo technology be used as propaganda? The idea that it would feed anyone a steady diet of Nazi apologists is bizarre. What would it take to slip in an occasional show enumerating the wonderful record of Bill Clinton? The technology could be the equivalent of the Oprah Book Club making literary best sellers.

From a political perspective, the technology could support a wider gap between ideologies. This is the opposite of a liberal education that tries to challenge students with new and differing POV. This is spoon feeding like-minded ideology that leads to narrowed perspectives and misinformed people.

Posted by: bakho on December 11, 2003 07:07 AM


Julian is channeling Gary T.

There is a way around this problem, so obvious I can’t believe it didn’t occur to you. STOP BEING A SHILL FOR THE SOUL-GRINDING, MONEY-GRUBBING CAPITALIST SYSTEM!!

You think the Wall Street Journal’s writing crew feels a close intellectual connection to all the nonsense advertised next to their hallowed scribblings? Doubt it. Thinks go better with Coke, Brad. Look 3 inches taller. Satisfy your partner every time. Past life regression can make your hair shine and bounce.

Posted by: K Harris on December 11, 2003 08:13 AM



It's not:

"he who shall not be named" but

"He who must not be named."

Posted by: nitpicker on December 11, 2003 08:51 AM


Well, nitpicker, I'm not a native English speaker but I thought you were wrong, so I took a look at :

Where I found :

AUXILIARY VERB: Inflected forms: past tense should ( shd)
1. Used before a verb in the infinitive to show: a. Something that will take place or exist in the future: We shall arrive tomorrow. b. Something, such as an order, promise, requirement, or obligation: You shall leave now. He shall answer for his misdeeds. The penalty shall not exceed two years in prison. c. The will to do something or have something take place: I shall go out if I feel like it. d. Something that is inevitable: That day shall come. 2. Archaic a. To be able to. b. To have to; must.
In addition to its sense of obligation, shall also can convey high moral seriousness that derives in part from its extensive use in the King James Bible, as in “Righteousness shall go before him and shall set us in the way of his steps” (Ps 85:13) and “He that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Mt 23:12). The prophetic overtones that shall bears with it have no doubt led to its use in some of the loftiest rhetoric in English. This may be why Lincoln chose to use it instead of will in the Gettysburg Address:“government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”


Posted by: Antoni Jaume on December 11, 2003 09:39 AM


The question of positive versus negative mention frequently comes up in talk of search engines.

The common assumption is that the links should be limited to things we speak well of.

I argue the opposite. If there is discussion, pro or con, about a topic or person, then it seems self evident that this is a good place to link to, or to place targeted ads.

The strength of your feeling, pro or con, is highly correlated to the relevence of these ads or links.

The basic idea is 'Love me or hate me, just link to me.'

Posted by: Rich Gibson on December 11, 2003 09:47 AM


Jonathan: Nice reference, but be sure not to use the nominative pronoun in an objective sense. So here it would be "him who..." if we were to be grammatical sticklers.

Keep going at this rate with the amateur linguistics and we'll get linked to stuff by William F. Buckley. Hee hee.

Posted by: Chris on December 11, 2003 10:11 AM


At least Phillips and Panasonic are getting their r/w home video DVD units under $500. Neither reports your viewing habits to Comrade Marshall TiVo nor do they need an additional $12.95/month to operate.

Posted by: pops on December 11, 2003 11:41 AM


A friend writes that a few months ago his TiVo decided that he was avidly interested in plastic surgery shows--especially the shows where they film the operation as it progresses. Fortunately, this has passed, and it now believes that he is an enthusiastic fisherman.

This brings to mind some of the dialogue from a Canadian fishing show we watched in Banff: "Ooh! Another juvenile coho salmon! This makes number 37! Isn't he beautiful! Goodbye, Mr. Fish!"

Posted by: Brad DeLong on December 11, 2003 12:26 PM


Hawg! Google hates me! Google says; " ach so you don't think chemicals and stock markets are fun? OK. Here you go: Iraqi decks and hourly updates from Iraq!

Vignoble on you Google!

Vitis vinifera!

Posted by: Bulent Sayin on December 11, 2003 01:21 PM


"TiVo decided that he was avidly interested in..."

Why assume this? Why not give your TiVo more credit? Maybe "My TiVo thinks I'm ugly," or "TiVo suggested I really should have become a doctor."

And would it be wet blanketish to remind everyone that you can turn _off_ the TiVo suggestions?

Oh, and Brad, David Brooks.

Posted by: ogged on December 11, 2003 02:03 PM


The asterisks reminded me of "The Education of Hyman Kaplan." Maybe you should write a little about Jewish authors like Rosten.

Posted by: Linkmeister on December 11, 2003 06:22 PM


Google is the overmind. Do not attempt to fight Google. Embrace your inner David Brooks.

Of course, if you do, I won't be dropping by much anymore, unless I want to hear about the wonderful BoBo's.

Posted by: Buck on December 11, 2003 06:43 PM


The problem with Google algortihms appears to be that it doesn't realize that readers of this blog would be more likely to click on a link to a web site on wine, cheese, classical music or NGO activity, or even a tourism link about "fjords" (spell?) of Norway, or even a news item, than "Future Numbers", "Channel Management" or "Fax to E-Mail"!

Posted by: Bulent Sayin on December 11, 2003 10:01 PM


I seem to have fixed it by using the word "outsourcing." Now the ads are all for call services and telemarketers...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on December 12, 2003 10:56 AM


That Brooks and Shields thing- it must have been some special Google monitor to prevent certain eyeballs from gazing on capitalist imperialist decadent images.

Also, regarding fishing shows, that may not have been an authentic fishing show if they did not say OOH at least two or three times whenever a fish was caught, or better yet, grunted several times instead. Aren't those shows great? You never know what is going to happen next.

Finally, give me a break. Anybody who uses words like "jejune" whatever the heck that means, deserves what they get, probably a lot of hotsy-totsy intellectual thesaurus-based type ads.

Posted by: northernLights on December 12, 2003 12:38 PM


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