Data Philosophy

Why I won't collect unnecessary data

A lot of popular software is providing personalized experiences. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube all use algorithms to try to show their users what they think will keep them on their site the longest and keep them coming back. This involves a lot of personal data. They collect things like what their users view, how long they view it, whether they interact with it, and much more. If they can accurately predict what will keep users on their sites, then imagine what else they can infer about their users. The negative consequences of this includes hyper-targeted ads and filter bubbles.

Ad targeting can be argued for using the majority opinion that viewing relevant ads is more enjoyable than irrelevant ads. I can understand this, but these ads might not be intended to evoke a positive response. It's widely known that anger is one of the best drivers for engagement, so it makes sense if ads try to make viewers angry. The side-effects of seeing many anger-inducing ads over and over include nihilism and depression. Is the benefit of seeing relevant ads that you enjoy greater than the detriment of being targeted for your potential to become enraged? I don't think it is.

I also don't think filter bubbles are a good thing. Filter bubbles ensure the content users see is related to the type of information they've viewed before. Large social networks are home to extremely diverse content. Filter bubbles hide much of this from users because designers don't think it will be relevant. It becomes very difficult to find diverse content and it becomes easy to find onesself in an echo chamber. Here, users believe that their opinions are correct because all the content they see is in agreement with them.

FriendGroup won't try to personalize users' experiences. Users will be able to see all content, and filtering will be done by them explicity. Data won't be collected for ad-targeting. The only data currently collected is an email, first name, and last name. This is used to define a profile and profiles are associated with other content. Posts, group memberships, comments, votes, and invites are the only things associated with profiles. I'm avoiding features that will require unnecessary associations between these data.

Recently, I was confronted with choosing a way to notify users at the post level. I could have a user specify at post time if they would like to be notified when there is a new comment or have commenters specify they would like to notify a poster at comment time. I chose the latter because it does not require storing any extra data; a notification is sent at comment time, and no data persists. I will continue to make these types of decisions going forward with FriendGroup's development.