Facebook knows what you were doing three years ago, why does it insist on reminding you?

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You may not remember what you were doing on a day like today last year, but your smartphone does. And he will be happy to remind you. For some time now, different platforms have looked back to rescue photos and messages from the past. This functionality uses artificial intelligence to evoke an equally artificial nostalgia. The reasons for companies to do so are varied: segment advertising audiences, energize social networks or even push the user to establish emotional ties with digital platforms and prevent them from abandoning them.

To find the beginning of this practice you also have to look back. On Christmas 2014 Facebook created a personalized video with the most outstanding publications of each user during the year that ended. The cover photo of this publication was the one that had received the most reactions in the last 12 months. Usually it was a wedding photo, a selfie, a vacation with friends … In some cases, a painful memory. For the American writer and web consultant Eric Meyer it was the photo of his daughter, recently deceased, on the phrase “Eric, this has been your year!”. “He was right, but it was still not pleasant to remind me in such a violent way,” he later commented in a blog post .

Eric’s was not an isolated case. The complaints of different users made Facebook apologize and understand that aspects as intimate as memories cannot be selected and packaged by artificial intelligence. Since then the social network has implemented a filter with which we can exclude certain people or time lapses from our digital memories. However these have increased their presence. They no longer appear exceptionally like the summary of a year ending, but have become a constant trickle. The memories tab has even been added to update posts from the past, almost as if they happened in the present. But the time difference here is important.

“Every photo you post on Facebook is a potential anchor to your past self,” explains Liliana Arroyo , a research sociologist at ESADE and author of the book You are not your selfie . The problem is that personal circumstances change from the moment you drop that anchor until the algorithm retrieves it. Artificial intelligence does not take into account that in our life there are separations, there are deaths, there are chapters that we simply do not want to remember. “The algorithm only thinks about hooking you, and in this way condemns you to mandatory memory,” says Arroyo. “I think that these types of practices generate discomfort precisely because of that, because human memory is selective and dynamic. Artificial intelligence, no ”. Not everyone sees it that way. A dozen ofFacebook’s internal research suggests that artificial nostalgia can have a positive impact on the mood and general well-being of its users.

But for Arroyo, the problem is not the lack of sensitivity of the algorithm, but the interest behind this functionality. “First of all, the company wants to get to know you better and better,” he explains. He wants to confirm if what he is proposing is an accurate image of you. By publishing it, you would be validating their marketing segmentation. “In the end they are advertising companies, they are interested in having well classified users.”

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