Professional Reader

outnumbered book review

The moment you open Google, or Facebook, which is usually multiple times a day, you are giving up personal information to be analysed, shared and profited from. Scary right? But think about it. How does Spotify know what you like to listen to on your daily mix? When you buy something from Amazon, how do they know ‘what else you might like?’. You might be browsing for holiday deals one night and by the morning your Facebook feed is full of sponsored posts for hotel comparisons and holiday deals. How?

Facebook collects information and stores lists of things you might like, so you fall into these characteristics and demographics to be marketed to. Author David Sumpter tells you how to find out for yourself and I thought I would take a peek at what Facebook has on me, taking a look at sport first and it was quite eye-opening.

outnumbered book review

I’m a little confused as to how some of these preferences got in and others are bang on.  I had been to Doomben racecourse recently (did I check in on Facebook? I don’t think I did!) and I do enjoy the odd punt on the horses, BUT I have zero interest cricket (I actually despise it) and it baffles me that college football and ballroom dancing got in there!  I found that if you hover on the image and hit the cross to remove the selections that you don’t want to see and have no interest in. I’ll be doing that with the other categories and closing watching to see what changes.

After reading just how much information is collected by companies online and how they manipulate you to buy, click, vote and think, I locked my settings down. It’s a weird feeling when you delve in like Google is going for a rummage in your handbag while you’re in the bathroom.

outnumbered book review

Are We Controlled by Social Media?

David Sumpter is a mathematician and sure, some bits get a little bit too data-heavy for me and the numbers blurred on the page, but for the most part, Outnumbered was fact-based, easy to read and really interesting. Just how much do algorithms rule our world? How do companies know just when to market to me and when?  How is that analytical companies can predict that a Lady Gaga fan who likes Starbucks and country music is more likely to be a Republican, but a Lady Gaga fan who likes Alicia Keys and Harry Potter is more likely to vote Democrat? Well, you’ll find out here.

There is also an interesting chapter showing the power of the like and dislike button. Jake Paul, an awfully shallow and dislikeable human being who has a large teenage following on Youtube created a god awful rap video. It could well be the whitest thing I’ve ever seen, lots of people hated it, 3.9 million in fact! But, you see, to watch the video and hit dislike, 3.9 million people had to sit through a 10second ad.  Being hated and disliked can at least become profitable.

Sumpter touches on lots of different topics in this book, notably the controversial Trump/Cambridge Analytica scandal and Facebooks use (or misuse) of personal information. I found it equal parts interesting and scary. Just how much personal information to do we have out there, and how much are we aware of how it’s being used to manipulate us to think in a certain way.

An interesting read which is certain to spark conversation.  You’ll be heading off to lock up your online settings by the time you’ve finished the third chapter and you might think twice before asking Siri a personal question.

Outnumbered is in all good bookshops and available to buy online here

Published by Bloomsbury

outnumbered book review

Book Blurb for Outnumbered by David Sumpter

‘Fascinating’ Financial TimesAlgorithms are running our society, and as the Cambridge Analytica story has revealed, we don’t really know what they are up to. Our increasing reliance on technology and the internet has opened a window for mathematicians and data researchers to gaze through into our lives. Using the data they are constantly collecting about where we travel, where we shop, what we buy and what interests us, they can begin to predict our daily habits. But how reliable is this data? Without understanding what mathematics can and can’t do, it is impossible to get a handle on how it is changing our lives. In this book, David Sumpter takes an algorithm-strewn journey to the dark side of mathematics. He investigates the equations that analyse us, influence us and will (maybe) become like us, answering questions such as: Who are Cambridge Analytica? And what are they doing with our data?
How does Facebook build a 100-dimensional picture of your personality?
Are Google algorithms racist and sexist?
Why do election predictions fail so drastically?
Are algorithms that are designed to find criminals making terrible mistakes?
What does the future hold as we relinquish our decision-making to machines? Featuring interviews with those working at the cutting edge of algorithm research, including Alex Kogan from the Cambridge Analytica story, along with a healthy dose of mathematical self-experiment, Outnumbered will explain how mathematics and statistics work in the real world, and what we should and shouldn’t worry about.A lot of people feel outnumbered by algorithms – don’t be one of them.