A dive into the depths of the web

On January 28th we, the classes 5AS and 5B, experienced a somehow different English-lesson, being lectured by Dr. Francesco Ricci, professor of Computer Science at the Free University of Bolzano. In these two hours he tried to make the reality of “online recommender systems” a little more accessible to us, juggling around with terms like “collaborative filtering” and “nearest neighbor- algorithm” (that at first sounded like Chinese to us).

 

After some confused looks and some more thinking though, we started to understand: “Recommender systems” are a sort of information- filtering- systems used by websites like Amazon or Facebook to predict the preferences of the users and recommend products that could be interesting for them.

        

The trick behind this is providing rating- possibilities to the users, so they can express their preferences or give feedback on the things offered on a certain site. With the help of complex mathematical formulas (despite the explanation, those still remained a mystery for us), recommender systems then sort out this information and identify users with similar interests, in order to suggest the right type of merchandise to the right people. So basically, every time we click the “like”-button on Facebook, we give away a piece of our private information that helps others to manipulate us in our decisions.

Many, like I, for myself, were shocked about this revelation of how much we are influenced by the net on a daily basis without even noticing; and while some of us probably went home rethinking the necessity of keeping a Facebook- profile on the costs of their privacy, others might have discovered their vocation for computer or marketing science and will soon be designing I-phone- apps that play music in the car according to the mood of the driver!

All in all a constructive and insightful morning!

Silvia Mayr 5AS