Tech Companies and the Politics of Location

I have a phone. On that phone, a Samsung Galaxy S8+, I use Chrome to browse the web.

In Chrome, every time I open a new tab, I get a list of recommended articles. They are little odds and ends from around the web, things Google thinks I might find interesting, based on browsing history, location, things like that.

If there are say, 25 recommendations, I click on maybe three or four. For a list curated by algorithm, that’s not a great success rate; still, it isn’t horrible.

Up until recently, I was living in New York City, in a very liberal area, probably one of the most liberal areas in the United States, if not the entire world.

Then I moved, and I noticed Chrome’s recommendations changed dramatically. I was getting a lot of links from Fox News — mostly Fox News, actually — and other websites that lean right.

I hadn’t looked at any links from Fox News previously, so I wondered what the hell was going on. Why, all of a sudden, did my phone think I wanted to see that?

What I found was that the location I moved to was very close to, practically on, the border of a town that had voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Presumably, many of the people in this town look at Fox News. Perhaps my phone now thinks I want to, too.

I find this really interesting, if only because it serves to show how technology companies take the bubbles that people are already in, and keep them there. You live here, you get shown this, you live there, you get shown that. People look at their phones practically all day long; this is psychological brainwashing.

I looked at my phone, all those links, and only thought one thing: scary.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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