Does it matter where recommendations come from?

Why is it okay for our friends and loved ones to recommend products, movies and travel destinations, but we find it intrusive when artificial intelligence is used to recommend them?

We are already utilizing artificial intelligence on our iPhones when we ask Siri for directions or weather forecasts as well as locating information via voice command on our Android-based phones when we ask questions of Google. It seems normal now to interact with this type of technology. We seek information for which restaurant to frequent, which movie to see, or which store has the best price on the latest item we want to buy.

Through our day-to-day interactions with friends and family they come to know our likes, preferences, habits and tastes. Using this knowledge they buy us gifts, recommend items to improve our lives and offer suggestions to events or destinations they think we would enjoy. Yet, when marketers try to understand our habits as we walk through a store (Clifford, 2013), identify the products that we really like (“FetchBack,” 2011), or follow our activity on various web sites (Sloane, 2014) we feel a sense of invasion of privacy even though we are interacting in public places, like clothing stores, coffee shops, and the internet. The computers we use are private, but we enter a public space when we use the internet.

Artificial intelligence continues to grow at the speed of the gazillion 1’s and 0’s traversing the internet. The next step of digital technology is “anticipatory computing” (Hu, 2014). Google Now can learn our habits, see what we do on our cell phones and offer corresponding information. The next steps are for computers to listen to us, then anticipate what we need and get the information we need without us even asking (Hu, 2014).

These anticipatory computers will be marvelous and game changing devices for marketing. Our cell phones running apps or even built in capabilities will be able to anticipate our needs and give us information.  Then perhaps the next step in the marketing realm is for it to start making the connections with the movies we like and start making unsolicited recommendations or if it knows we like to shop at Pottery Barn it can let us know that they are having a sale today. Perhaps in the not too distant future these devices will even be the ones to decide to purchase the items for us.

As these technology devices become more sophisticated and interact with us in a more human way, do you think we will welcome this type of interaction or will it still seem like an invasion of privacy?



Clifford, S. (2013, July 14). Attention, shoppers: Store is tracking your cell. Business Day, The New York Times website. Retrieved from

FetchBack adds new features to its retargeting technology. (2011, July 1). InternetRetailer website. Retrieved from

Hu, E. (2014, March 17). Computers that know what you need, before you ask. All Tech Considered, National Public Radio website. Retrieved from

Sloane, G. (2014, March 14). Google winds down wildfire to focus on DoubleClick integration. AdWeek website. Retrieved from

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5 Responses to Does it matter where recommendations come from?

  1. Erika White says:

    Thanks for the post Caroline. This is an issue near and dear to me as I regularly think about how the future of advertising with intersect with privacy concerns. It seems like it’s hard for advertisers to win these days. On the one hand, consumers feel like there’s enough technology out there that advertisers (and vendors) of a certain scale, should be able to anticipate their needs. This makes them find irrelevant advertising and offers borderline rude. On the other hand, because consumers are sharing data faster than they can fathom, they are afraid of companies taking advantage of it. I think the future of artificial intelligence will be for those companies that have earned consumers’ trust and their confidence that their data is being used strategically and stored safely.

  2. Misty Brown says:

    Caroline, you’ve outlined really good questions. I do think we are currently in a period where it is weird/odd/intrusive/”wrong” for machines to use information we have supplied to offer up suggestions or opinions on what we might want next. I do think we currently want to believe that only humans can be that intuitive, and I think we also cling to the idea that we are in control at all times.

    But I think this period will pass. Millennials are currently the largest named generation, making up 25% of the population, and are considered “digital natives” (Fromm, Lindell, & Decker, 2011). They have never known a world without technology (Fromm, Lindell, & Decker, 2011). That said, they will likely continue to expect that technology will become more sophisticated, and their expectation will likely impact generations that precede and succeed them.

    I can imagine the day I walk into a clothing store, scan something and get a store map sent to my phone telling me where specific fashion recommendations are located within the store. Or I receive a text from my grocer letting me know, the moment I cross the store threshold, that the peanut butter I bought three months ago is now on sale.

    I believe these will become our new expectations. Definitions of privacy will evolve accordingly.

  3. Misty Brown says:

    Fromm, J., Lindell, C., & Decker, L. (2011). American Millennials: Deciphering the enigma generation. Retrieved from

  4. Erin says:

    Caroline great post. Do you think there are generational factors at play here as well? I know that I don’t mind the intuitiveness of my android phone. The first time I got a notification for an appointment advising me of traffic and that I should leave in 15 minutes to arrive on time I welcomed it. My mother on the other hand does not. She wants her phone to be a phone with some text messaging, navigation and other simple tools like calculator and weather. That’s it that’s all, she doesn’t want any recommendations or intuitiveness.


  5. Nick Dempsey says:

    I think in typical human fashion we will like this technology when it makes our lives easier, such google search knowing exactly what we are searching for even if we do not, or when maps knows exactly where we want to go before we even start typing an address, or when Hulu or Youtube or spotify offer us great recomendations on great new music and videos we should try based on what we already enjoy. However, the second this technology becomes intrusive, annoying or violating (like the NSA situation) we of course will denounce it and ask if technology has gone too far. Then after we are done denouncing we will go right back to using the technology.