Skip to main content

Conned by convenience: The dangers of too much aggregation


Aggregators fit in perfectly with the self-obsessed state of the Internet. Everything revolves around you. Search engines that integrate social results are pulling from your group of friends; Facebook and Twitter have made sure that you are able to broadcast your every thought and activity; becoming a YouTube celebrity is actually possible.

Aggregation services capitalize on the fact that we’re addicted to being able to personalize everything in our digital lives.

Which of course, has its benefits. How many people want to troll through daily deal sites that aren’t customized to their location? Not a lot. But of course, most of these Groupon-mimics take it a step further by grabbing your age, sex, likes, dislikes, hobbies, income level, occupation, favorite snack, etc, in order to churn out coupons that will appeal to you and possibly only you.

Here’s why the convenience of aggregators can sometimes cause more harm than good.

Living in your own world…literally

Truth be told, there isn’t a lot of harm with local discount aggregators. Of course, the more you define yourself for these sites, the narrower of a pool some of them pull from. And as long as you don’t care about what coupons from local vendors you’re missing out on, there’s nothing wrong with it. But what about other aggregators? Services like Flipboard, Zite,, and Trove want to offer you all the latest news – as long as it’s within the realm of things you want to hear about.

Trove, the Washington Post’s online answer to the array of tablet and smartphone optimized news aggregators, pulls much of its customization from your Facebook profile. So if you lied to look smarter (you didn’t really read War and Peace, did you?) or prefer to reveal nothing on the site, Trove’s got its work cut out for it. Not to worry: The site puts you through a series of questions to determine exactly what you want to read and through its algorithm, you will be delivered a personalized paper.

But when it comes to news, restricting yourself to subjects that strictly adhere to your identity and demographic seems like a bad idea. The purpose of these aggregators is to customize news so you don’t have to troll through things that don’t interest you, but that means you’re narrowing what you’re exposed to. A person could digitally exist within his or her own world, staying up to date on only part of what’s going on in the world. On one hand, convenience: Save those precious seconds where you bypass the business or lifestyle section. On the other, ignorance: Don’t we all learn things we never intended to by just running across a headline we’d otherwise disregard? StumbleUpon is the only curator that embraces this idea, although it also asks a series of questions to gauge where your interests lie.

There are also aggregators that work by simply scouring your Twitter or Google Reader activity, such as Zite does. So if what you’re reading is a product of what you’ve said, it seems like the information you’re taking in and putting out becomes entirely cyclical; you’re stuck reading and repeating the same topics.

Giving away your data

If a plea for awareness isn’t enough to convince you there might be a dangerous side to news aggregators, then what about the sake of your personal information? It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) take a genius to understand that the customization process on these sites yields extremely valuable data for advertisers. Social networking sites have been in hot water for selling your profile information to third parties, so what’s to stop anyone else from doing it? MySpace is currently being sued for actually handing over user data to aggregators even though the site assured users they could opt out of giving their information away. And of course, these aggregators were then shipping the precious information off to advertisers. According to the lawsuit, “MySpace knowingly serves and profits handsomely from being a conduit through which details of the most intimate aspects of its members’ lives, as reflected in their Internet browsing history and otherwise are transmitted to data aggregators, who package the information into profiles and sell it like any other commodity to advertisers.”

It seems obvious that these sites aren’t simply creating these aggregation applications simply for your benefit. They aren’t only trying to make your life simpler and cut down on the news clutter – they want to know their readers. Advertisers aren’t the only ones profiting: Your information is a commodity and it will be used by anyone that can get their hands on it. There’s a price to be paid for personalization.

Mass media can suffer

In addition to hurting readers, there’s also the industry to think about. Zite recently landed itself in hot water with major publishers. In a very strict cease-and-desist letter, companies like the AP, Dow Jones, Gannett, Getty Images, National Geographic, Time, Slate, and the Washington Post more or less accused the site of plagiarism.

“By systematically reformatting, republishing, and redistributing our original content on a mass commercial scale without our permission in your iPad application, Zite directly and adversely impacts our businesses. Your application takes the intellectual property of our companies, as well as the hard and sometimes dangerous work of tens of thousands of people. It deprives our websites of traffic and advertising revenue. We do not know your intentions, but your actions harm our companies and the broader media and news industry on which your application relies for its content.”

Sure, it’s difficult to pity these large publishers and their larger yet net revenues, but they’ve got a point. Why Zite is the only target, we’re unsure, but the sentiment still rings true – except for the fact that the Washington Post just launched its own aggregator, Trove, which pulls news from over 10,000 sources. Traditional publications aren’t the only ones getting in on the game: Mashable recently introduced Mashable Follow and LinkedIn offers a news feature tailored to your interests. The more sites introduce their own news curators, the more likely it is some media toes are going to be stepped on.

Editors' Recommendations

Molly McHugh
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Before coming to Digital Trends, Molly worked as a freelance writer, occasional photographer, and general technical lackey…
Get this 14-inch HP laptop for $180 in the Best Buy Memorial Day sale
HP Laptop 14

Often a leader when it comes to laptop deals, Best Buy has a great offer on a super cheap HP 14-inch laptop. Usually priced at $200, this HP 14-inch laptop is down to $180 for a limited time only as part of the Best Buy Memorial Day sale. Now you might be thinking how that's 'only' $20 off but when you consider this laptop is already only $200, that 10% discount adds up fast. Making it more affordable for many on a tight budget, let's take a look at why it's worth it, or you can simply hit the buy button below.

Why you should buy the 14-inch HP 14z Laptop
There's no denying this HP 14-inch laptop is fairly basic. It's well-suited for web browsing or typing up documents via Google Docs or similar, but we wouldn't count on it for anything slightly demanding. It has an Intel Celeron processor along with 4GB of memory and 64GB of eMMC storage so it's pretty basic in every way. Running Windows 11 Home in S mode means it can cope with simple activities while its 14-inch HD display at least offers BrightView technology to make things look better.

Read more
Memorial Day sales knock $600 off this Asus gaming laptop
asus rog strix g15 deal best buy may 2023 advantage edition promotional render

Looking for gaming laptop deals? Best Buy has one of the best of the bunch with $600 off the Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition gaming laptop. Usually priced at $1,700, it's down to $1,100 for a limited time only making this one of the more tempting laptop deals around. If you're looking for a stylish and powerful gaming laptop, you can't go wrong here. Either hit the buy button or keep reading while we tell you more about it.

Why you should buy the Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition
Asus has made some of the best gaming laptops over the years. Known to be one of the best laptop brands, that's reflected in the Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition. It has a powerful AMD Ryzen 9 5980HX processor which is supported by 16GB of memory and 512GB of SSD storage. For the graphics card, there's a Radeon RX 6800M graphics card with 12GB of dedicated VRAM to help ensure you can play the latest games without an issue. The screen is a delight too with a 15.6-inch QHD display with 165Hz refresh rate and 100% sRGB color gamut for fantastic color and clarity.

Read more
Google’s ChatGPT rival just launched in search. Here’s how to try it
Generative AI in Google Search.

Ever since Microsoft started integrating ChatGPT into Bing search, alarm bells have been ringing at Google. Now, though, the tech giant has started rolling out its own generative artificial intelligence (AI) tool for users as part of its bid to retain its search crown.

In a blog post, the company explains that the new feature (called Search Generative Experience, or SGE) is part of Google’s Search Labs, which lets you test out experimental ideas in Google search and provide feedback to the company. Google says its generative AI will “help you take some of the work out of searching, so you can understand a topic faster, uncover new viewpoints and insights and get things done more easily.”

Read more