The Filter Bubble
The first time I realized I was inside the filter bubble was about one year ago while I was browsing the web. I was on a Google search engine when a random ad popped up advertising Steve Madden shoes. Hmm? I wondered why because I currently wasn’t shoe shopping online, but I did about a week prior. I thought it was peculiar but didn’t think much of it until a few days later when a Victoria’s Secret ad popped up. Again, I wasn’t shopping for lingerie at this moment, but I had weeks prior. This is when I came to the realization that I was in fact living inside the filter bubble. I just had no clue what that meant. As I started to read Chapter 2: The User Is the Content, I quickly understood more about this invisible bubble. I was fascinated and slightly disturbed by the thought that internet giants like Google and Yahoo, can personalize my web experience based off my past internet searches. Don’t they need permission or something? Wait this bubble is invisible!? So, what does this mean for me, my privacy and for every other private citizen that this is happening to? Eli Pariser attempts to answer these questions and poses an even scarier one: If this data personalization continues what will happen to our democracy?
I grew up in the same generation as Eli Pariser. When he talks about his early experiences with the internet I can relate. The world wide web explosion happened to both of us at the same time. I can remember the days of my old AOL chat rooms and my personal profile where silly me, I thought I could input all my personal information safely, address and all. I remember how I had to anxiously wait for the sound of the land line phone connection before I could even get online. The sound of the busy dial tone preventing me from access to the web was usually meant with a loud snarl. Those were the days when the concept of a filter bubble was far off in the horizon. At this time the internet was about being an open platform where the flow of new and innovative ideas was encouraged and embraced. This was an exciting time and the world wide web seemed full of promise. But in December of 2009, Google began to customize its search results for all users, and we entered a new era of personalization. With little notice, our online experience is quickly changing, as the websites we visit are increasingly tailoring themselves to us. This is where Eli Pariser becomes concerned. It’s important to note that after reading his works I realize he is not anti-internet. He embraces technology and longs to return to the days when our early online experiences were built around community and the democratic flow of shared ideas and opinions, and to not live in a world where our online experiences are being personalized because of corporate greed, power and money.
Data collection and personalization is already taking place on every major website, from Facebook to AOL to ABC News. This new trend is nothing short of an invisible revolution in how we consume information, one that will shape how we learn, what we know, and even how our democracy works. After I realized I was inside the filter bubble I was concerned that what would pop up on my screen would only be the fun stuff, or the glamorized version of the news of today. I would only be exposed to things that confirmed my beliefs. How dreadful I thought! Without me even knowing these data collections agencies are eliminating or deleting what normally would pop up in my feed. Which includes all the good, the bad, and the ugly of today’s news. Not that I’m particularly interested in the grim, depressing stories featured on everyday news broadcasts, I hardly watch it to be honest. But give me the power to choose, give me the freedom to decide and determine what I want to see or not see pop up in my Yahoo news feed. I embrace and love to read about the conservative political point of views of politicians that are opposite of my own liberal beliefs. Pariser and I have that in common, we are liberals who are fascinated with conservative political viewpoints. I learned this in watching his impressive TED TALK which I featured in my Power Point presentation and will share with all of you in class. I’m looking forward to hearing all your thoughts and opinions and engaging in our usual lively class discussions.
In conclusion the race to collect as much personal data about us as possible, and to tailor our online experience, accordingly, is now the main battle for todays internet giants like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. Behind the scenes, an expanding industry of data companies is tracking our personal information and our every move to sell to advertisers, from our political inclinations which I mentioned above, even to our online shopping preferences. Hence my own filter bubble experience with Victoria’s Secret and Steve Madden ads popping up before I can even click my mouse. But now after reading Chapter 2 and exploring more of Eli Pariser’s groundbreaking book (I encourage you all to read it), I see that this problem is much more serious. It’s not only about data companies shaping what I want to shop for and spend my money on. On a deeper, more sinister level there’s an ominous, invisible force at work trying to “clean up” my news feed and tell me what I should be watching and not necessarily what I need to be watching. I certainly don’t want my past choices whether it be a simple internet search or my past mistakes in life, to determine my future. The invisible filter bubble that exists today is a scary part of our digital culture and seems to be leaving us in a more isolated world. The internet is closing in on itself under the pressure of commerce and monetization-the action or process of earning revenue from an asset, business etc. But have no fear there is hope, with innovators like Eli Pariser who have laid out a new vision for the web, one that once again embraces the benefits of technology without turning a blind eye to the negative consequences of corporate power and greed, but will ensure that the internet lives up to its pure transformative promise.