When was the last time you read an online review about a local business or service on a platform like Yelp? Of course you want to make sure the local plumber you hire is honest, or that even if the date is dud, at least the restaurant isnâ€™t lousy. A recent surveyÂ found thatÂ 76 percentÂ of consumers check online reviews before buying, so a lot can hinge on a good or bad review. Such sites have become so important to local businesses that itâ€™s not uncommon for scheming owners to hire shills to boost themselves or put down their rivals.
To protect users from getting duped by fake reviews Yelp employs an algorithmic review reviewerÂ which constantly scans reviews and relegates suspicious ones to a â€œfiltered reviewsâ€ page, effectively de-emphasizing them without deleting them entirely. But of course that algorithm is not perfect, and it sometimes de-emphasizes legitimate reviews and leavesÂ actual fakes intactâ€”oops. Some businesses have complained, alleging that the filter can incorrectly remove all of their most positiveÂ reviews, leaving them with a lowly one-Â or two-stars average.
This is just one example of how algorithms are becomingÂ ever more important in society, for everything from search engine personalization, discrimination, defamation, and censorship online, to how teachers are evaluated, how markets work, how political campaigns are run, and even how something like immigration is policed. Algorithms, driven by vast troves of data, are the new power brokers in society, both in the corporate world as well as in government.