Category Archives: sex and the city

The Machinations of Amazon Profiling

I’ve always been amazed at Amazon’s profiling.  You know the kind of thing I mean – you’re on the site, you add something to your wishlist or basket and you’re immediately presented with a whole plethora of suggestions from Amazon for other things you might like.  Lo and behold they seem to have you sussed – there you sit presented with a digital Pandora’s Box of delights you never even new existed – that you’d just love to have.  They know you better than your mother or your lover!

But it seems they don’t always get it right.  Imagine my horror at having just ordered some new bulbs for my trendy Father & Son Floor Lamp, and being offered as suggestions the likes of; a DVD of Les Miserables 25th Anniversary, a book called Room by Emma Donoghue, CD’s by Adele and Katy Perry – and God forbid, the DVD of –  Sex and the City 2!!!  With one innocent click of my mouse – in Amazon’s eyes – I seem to have instantly been transformed into a stereotypical, middle-aged gay suburbanite!  – I need to point out here that my feelings of horror were not caused by possibly being mistaken for a facile female or a  gay man – but by the suggestion that I might want that utter trash, piece of bollocks shite that is (in it’s popular abbreviation), SATC2!!!  – Although if I thought for a second, that women really were  like the uber-materialistic, self obsessed, vacuous, blithely ignorant, post-modern bimbette’s portrayed in this thing of nonsense (at least not all of them, anyway) – I would have no alternative, but to actually turn gay.  My feelings on this film and the whole franchise pretty much mirror what the good Dr. Kermode has to say here (This is a must watch!  It’s Rant-tastic – and it explains the gist of this whole posting), in his review.

Still, once I’d got over this little incident of identity shock I realised the event gave rise to an important question.  If Amazon’s profiling is usually SO good –  How do they do it?  Well, anybody who’s ever seen the brilliant documentary Erasing David has some idea, (brief interview with the film maker David Bond, describing the film, here).  There’s a brilliant scene in the film where David unveils printouts of all the information held on him in digital format by various organisations.  These organisations include Government Agencies, Social Network sites and Retail Giants.  The moment when he pulls out a doorstep sized wodge of paper that hugely dwarfs all of the other piles is one that causes jaws to drop everywhere!  Who is it that’s sent him this wodge – that effectively equates to – A Digital Directory of Him?  Is it MI5, MI6, the CIA – or even Facebook? No, you’ve guessed it – it’s our good old friends at Amazon.

I’m not one of the conspiracy nuts, or paranoid privacy junkies that worry unduly about such things (I actually quite like Amazon thrusting new goodies in my face), but I am fascinated by how they compile such a (usually) accurate assessment of my likes and dislikes, (although of course, there will always be the occasional amusing anomaly in among the proffered choices).

The following two brief posts from around 5 years ago when Amazon were applying to patent the profiling technology, begin to shed some light on how they compile their dossiers on you and I: Amazon Applies for Profiling Patent, Pending Amazon Profiling Patent  The posts reveal that Amazon look not just at your purchases, searches and wishlists, but that they also glean information by looking at the recipients of your gifts, messages in giftcards, and customer reviews.  It seems Amazon’s ingenuity at dreaming up ways to find out about you, and the resulting database – would make many a government intelligence agency green with envy. 

Move over Julian Assange – Amazon are the real Inf0Kings.  Perhaps in the 21st Century “I Shop, Therefore I Am,” would be a suitable reboot of Descartes’ pithier edict?

And no – I didn’t buy SATC2!