Algorithm is not a Four-Letter Word: Understanding the Benefits of Data Collection

A tweet from Daily Mail writer Piers Morgan. Screenshot taken from twitter.

Algorithm is a word we hear more and more frequently in the digital age. But what exactly is an algorithm?

Simply put, an algorithm is “just a series of instructions – a set of rules to solve a problem.”

Algorithms play an important role in the world of computer programming- they are employed by search engines like Google and social media like Facebook. Algorithms can be used to collect information on users, and for this reason, many are understandably wary of them and the threat they pose to privacy.

But instead of eschewing algorithms and data collection as a 1984-esque problem, we need to make an effort to understand what algorithms actually do, and the benefits they offer as well as the risks.

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The Dangers of SOPA and PIPA

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) was a hot topic in late 2011 and 2012. The bills led websites like Google and Wikipedia to “black out” in protest.


A screenshot of Wikipedia’s protest of SOPA and PIPA. Via Wikimedia Commons


But what exactly was the big deal about these bills?

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