Politrix: Digital Profiling

“Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.”- Tyler Durden aka a VERY sexy Brad Pitt

It’s one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies, Fight Club (yeah, I’m a boy, wanna make something of it?). And it’s the first thing that came to mind when I read about the debut of Rushmore Drive, a search engine meant to make it easier for black folk to find what we are looking for on the web. Why? With its top news stories that mention black people (henceforth “BP”) and its amateur-looking BP spotlight section (featuring the BP who work for companies that partner with the site), this is a divisive (and derisive) marketing ploy masquerading as a useful Internet tool.

Let me back up. It’s not that I don’t support minority-owned businesses—you best believe the cats with the tables in Harlem get plenty of our household income—but this site isn’t owned by us. It’s backed by Barry Diller’s IAC/Interactive Corp, ie, a bunch of cats who are firmly entrenched in the mainstream and have no use for this site except to make money off its users.

But I don’t begrudge businessmen making money, either. The sticking point for me is why BP need a special way to search the web in the first place? Company reps say it’s meant to help us find information that is generally buried in a Google search because it isn’t relevant to the general population. This engine is supposed to unearth sites that are preferred by BP. But who is to say what is important to BP? Are we to trust and abide by the research the company conducted, which found that when people in areas with large black populations “searched for recipes, they were much more likely to click on pages with soul food.” What? No photos of ashy, barefoot kids tucking into watermelon slices and fried chicken? There are two things wrong with building a website around this “information.” First, we don’t all eat soul food. Second, those of us who do don’t look for recipes—we just call Big Ma!

It’s very easy for oversimplifying to lead to stereotyping.

Then there’s the Big Brother aspect of it all. This site makes it a cinch to track the reading and spending habits of BP. Is this chick spending way too much time reading about Black Panthers and 9/11? Storm her apartment. Ooo, she searched credit cards. Let’s offer her joints with rates 23% and higher. Sound farfetched? You must not live in America; read this. If this was being done to the mainstream, they would be up in arms (wait, they already are).

Site backers plan to release search engines for other ethnic groups as well, so BP won’t be the only ones profiled on the net. Yippee! I for one won’t be bookmarking this one anytime soon.

Will you?


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