In 2020, we will finally open our eyes to the reality that personalisation does not actually serve our best interests. Rather, it serves the best interests of private companies, driven by advertising – the business model of the internet.
Personalisation drives profit because it reduces digital advertising waste. The richer and more comprehensive its data sources, the more targeted and dynamic it can be. The endgame of digital marketing is to build relationships through the real-time execution of campaigns tailored to the individual.
On the surface level, it is difficult to critique personalisation. This is due to the strong association the word has with relevance. Who can argue that relevance does not add value? But this is the wrong question to be asking: the more important question is who decides what is relevant. A much more fundamental, and alarming, issue with online personalisation is that it disempowers us: the algorithm has control over our choices. And the more data it has about us, the more disempowered we are.
We are now reaching a crunch point for personalisation, where we will need to rethink its costs and benefits. Predictive algorithms have become sophisticated and impossible to understand and they operate in intimate areas of our lives – even our facial expressions are being processed in real time, and deeply personal characteristics such as sexual orientation are being inferred without our knowledge. At the same time, data breaches, machine bias and fake-news scandals have escalated the importance of privacy and algorithmic transparency. In 2020, we will enter a new era of digital human rights and data ethics.