Did you ever hear the phrase, "Give the people what they want?"  Well, it would seem as though Google (and very likely other search engines as well," are looking to take that statement to a more intimate level, and give the PERSON what s/he wants.  The customization of search results to the person doing the search and his or her likes and dislikes is creating a "filter bubble."  The problem is that said bubble, while it may filter out garbage, may also sift out important information that the user simply has no taste for.

Ordinarily, I'd post up an excerpt of an article with a link to the complete piece.  Frankly, considering the current ubiquity of Google, the use it gets and the potential impact of such a phenomenon, I felt that this particular piece required more attention and consideration.  That said, here is today's complete entry from delanceyplace.com on Eli Pariser's book, The Filter Bubble:


In today's selection -- from The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser. Because of the personalization of the internet, an internet search of the same term by two different people will often bring very different results. We are each increasingly being served not only ads for what we are more likely to want, but also news and information that is familiar and confirms our beliefs. The issue is that we are increasingly unaware of what is being filtered out and why -- leaving us each more and more in our own unique and self-reinforcing information bubble. Author Eli Pariser calls this "the filter bubble" -- and it is leaving less room for encounters with unexpected ideas:

"Most of us assume that when we 'google' a term, we all see the same results -- the ones that the company's famous Page Rank algorithm suggests are the most authoritative based on other pages' links. But since December 2009, this is no longer true. Now you get the result that Google's algorithm suggests is best for you in particular -- and someone else may see something entirely different. In other words, there is no standard Google anymore.

"It's not hard to see this difference in action. In the spring of 2010, while the remains of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig were spewing crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, I asked two friends to search for the term 'BP.' They're pretty similar -- educated white left-leaning women who live in the Northeast. But the results they saw were quite different. One of my friends saw investment information about BP. The other saw news. For one, the first page of results contained links about the oil spill; for the other, there was nothing about it except for a promotional ad from BP.

"Even the number of results returned by Google differed -- about 180 million results for one friend and 139 million for the other. If the results were that different for these two progressive East Coast women, imagine how different they would be for my friends and, say, an elderly Republican in Texas (or, for that matter, a businessman in Japan).

"With Google personalized for everyone, the query 'stem cells' might produce diametrically opposed results for scientists who support stem cell research and activists who oppose it. 'Proof of climate change' might turn up different results for an environmental activist and an oil company executive. In polls, a huge majority of us assume search engines are unbiased. But that may be just because they're increasingly biased to share our own views. More and more, your computer monitor is a kind of one-way mirror, reflecting your own interests while algorithmic observers watch what you click. ...

"For a time, it seemed that the Internet was going to entirely redemocratize society. Bloggers and citizen journalists would single-handedly rebuild the public media. Politicians would be able to run only with a broad base of support from small, everyday donors. Local governments would become more transparent and accountable to their citizens. And yet the era of civic connection I dreamed about hasn't come. Democracy requires citizens to see things from one another's point of view, but instead we're more and more enclosed in our own bubbles. Democracy requires a reliance on shared facts; instead we're being offered parallel but separate universes.

"My sense of unease crystallized when I noticed that my conservative friends had disappeared from my Facebook page. Politically, I lean to the left, but I like to hear what conservatives are thinking, and I've gone out of my way to befriend a few and add them as Facebook connections. I wanted to see what links they'd post, read their comments, and learn a bit from them.

"But their links never turned up in my Top News feed. Facebook was apparently doing the math and noticing that I was still clicking my progressive friends' links more than my conservative friends' -- and links to the latest Lady Gaga videos more than either. So no conservative links for me.

"I started doing some research, trying to understand how Facebook was deciding what to show me and what to hide. As it turned out, Facebook wasn't alone.

"With little notice or fanfare, the digital world is fundamentally changing. What was once an anonymous medium where anyone could be anyone -- where, in the words of the famous New Yorker cartoon, nobody knows you're a dog -- is now a tool for soliciting and analyzing our personal data. According to one Wall Street Journal study, the top fifty Internet sites, from CNN to Yahoo to MSN, install an average of 64 data-laden cookies and personal tracking beacons each. Search for a word like 'depression' on Dictionary. com, and the site [automatically collects and stores information about your computer or mobile device and your activities] so that other Web sites can target you with antidepressants. Share an article about cooking on ABC News, and you may be chased around the Web by ads for Teflon-coated pots. Open -- even for an instant -- a page listing signs that your spouse may be cheating and prepare to be haunted with DNA paternity-test ads. The new Internet doesn't just know you're a dog; it knows your breed and wants to sell you a bowl of premium kibble."

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Replies to This Discussion

I worked in the tech industries, and when tech people were underemployed we found work to do.

After the hardware engineers added disk drives to a computer system that had only tape drives, I "smuggled" random access code into a software package that had only sequential access code.

Management was phasing the system out and told me to add code only to bring the software into compliance with the existing user manual. No one told me to leave the user manual alone so I edited random access instructions to it. I then added the random access code to the software. The customers liked it and my manager told me I had added to the system's useful life.

At today's search engine companies, underemployed tech people may have smuggled bubble-producing code into the software.

These tech people wouldn't have known that today's political polarization started when Pres. Reagan invited the fundamentalists into the Repub Party.

Do the management at these search engine companies know their software may be fomenting another civil war?

If these companies are part of the military-industrial complex, they will profit handsomely.

I'm not paranoid; I'm hyper-alert.



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