Monday, February 12, 2018

Everybody Lies: What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Staff review by Chris Saliba

A former Google data scientist analyses what we search for in the privacy of our our bedrooms.

The title of this book is a bit of a misnomer, a hook to get the prospective book buyer in. Everybody Lies purports to be about what our internet searches reveal about us. Indeed, there’s a middle section which goes through some of the author’s unlikely findings, mostly about sex and racism, but on the whole Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s book is more about the science of big data.

Stephens-Davidowitz is a former Google data scientist. His interesting idea is to analyse google searches to find out the truth about who we really are. As it turns out, we perform virtuous roles in public, but when manically searching for advice, answers or simple solace on the internet, we become darker, frailer and more insecure beings. Sexually we’re not very satisfied with our partners, a large amount of gay men are still in the closet and most disturbingly, there is a high volume of racist searches, especially targeting African-Americans.

Analysing racist searches and matching them up state by state with high voter turnout for Donald Trump at the 2016 election, the author declares it was an anti African-American sentiment that swept the President to power.

The rest of the book examines the science of big data, how it is analysed, its powers of prediction (big data knows more about us than we know about ourselves) and its possible future applications. Stephens-Davidowitz has a nerdy obsession for numbers and internet clicks, and uses sporting and gaming examples galore (much like Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise). He also addresses ethical questions. Is it okay for companies like Facebook to employ psychologists and online testing to get users to stay longer on their sites?

For readers interested in big data – how it works and where it may be going – Everybody Lies provides a friendly and accessible primer.

Everybody Lies: What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. Published by Bloomsbury. ISBN: 9781408894705  RRP: $24.99

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