The Filter Bubble

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Lynn Parramore interviews Internet activist Eli Pariser, board president of MoveOn.org, about the filter bubble our internet habits create:

Since Dec. 4, 2009, Google has been personalized for everyone. So when I had two friends this spring Google "BP," one of them got a set of links that was about investment opportunities in BP. The other one got information about the oil spill. Presumably that was based on the kinds of searches that they had done in the past. If you have Google doing that, and you have Yahoo doing that, and you have Facebook doing that, and you have all of the top sites on the Web customizing themselves to you, then your information environment starts to look very different from anyone else's. And that's what I'm calling the "filter bubble": that personal ecosystem of information that's been catered by these algorithms to who they think you are. ...

We turn to these personalization agents to sift through [information] for us automatically and try to pick out the useful bits. And that's fine as far as it goes. But the technology is invisible. We don't know who it thinks we are, what it thinks we're actually interested in.

At the end, it's a set of code, it's not a person, and it locks us into a specific kind of pixelated versions of ourselves. It locks us into a set of check boxes of interest rather than the full kind of human experience. I don't think with this information explosion that you can go back to an unfiltered and unpersonalized world. But I think you can bake into the code a sense of civic importance. You can have a sense that there are some things that we all need to be paying attention to, that we all need to be worried about, where you do want to see the top link on BP for everyone, not just investment information if you're interested in investments.

 

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