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Recommendation Systems Gone Bad

By - January 05, 2006

Xeni at BB notes an offensive – though not clearly intentional – result at Walmart.com.

This product listing on Wal*Mart’s website for a Planet of The Apes DVD suggests films about black historic figures Dorothy Dandridge and Martin Luther King, Jr. as “similar items.”

Reader comments continue:

I recall seeing something like this before. In that case, inappropriate Amazon books were recommended, such as sex guides being shown for people browsing a Pat Robertson book. It was theorized that a large number of people caused this by visiting one page then the other, in order to game the system.

Perhaps the same thing is happening here.

We all know about Google Bombing. But Recommendation System Bombing? That’s a new one to me!


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7 thoughts on “Recommendation Systems Gone Bad

  1. Gord says:

    Hmmm – maybe, but wasn’t “Planet of the Apes” supposed to reflect or portray something about race relations in the ’60’s?

  2. Andi says:

    A comment poster over at digg offered this quip:

    “As a monkey from the future I resent being compared to African-Americans.”

    I am amused that so much is being made of a silly error by a Chinese company.

  3. Tim Worstall says:

    Recommendation bombing?

    I had a book out in Novemeber in the UK. An anthology of the best of British blogging. (2005, Blogged, just so you know.)

    On Amazon.co.uk it was bombed in just such a manner so that one of the recommendations was “The A-Z of Mastur……” well, you can fill in the rest yourself. Slightly unkind of whoever did it but amusing all the same. We are a rather self-absorbed bunch, us bloggers, are we not?

  4. Eric says:

    Wasn’t Planet of the Apes a social commentary on racism and race relations? In that context I think the reccomendations are wholly appropriate.

  5. rd says:

    Ofcourse planet of the apes was a commentary on race relations. As was start trek. Lets not get too jumpy here…

  6. Joe Hunkins says:

    Great example of how artificial intelligence (ie the algo choosing the similar selections) is better than human intelligence, but we humans are just TOO STUPID TO GET IT.

    The references ARE intentional, but not suggesting African Americans = Apes.

    This clever algo has CORRECTLY determined that Planet of the Apes has a powerful allegorical theme suggesting that racism and discrimination are fundamentally wrong …. and that these are the same notions of … the people on the list!

    I can’t WAIT for the computers to take over, there will be so much less explaining to do!

  7. Mavryx says:

    Walmart uses Endeca for its Search and Merchandising on its website. Endeca which has a very powerful Search feature and is a leader in the e-commerce search space also includes a Merchandising Console.

    Bombing doesn’t quite have an effect on it unless there is a very tight loop between the analytics and the Merhandising Engine which is not out-of-the-box behavior for any ecommerce search or analytics engine (except Amazon who develops its own tools and makes them available to its prouct managers to be able to achieve the results it does)

    So what I’d say we saw is a rule that was written to be applied, without all the possible social implications being considered…. thats all…