The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web is Changing What We Read and How We Think

new-piktochart_21476884_5cd9c89d1740b99959e6c352a004f67605d72cb0Imagine a world where all the news you see is defined by your salary, where you live, and who your friends are. Imagine a world where you never discover new ideas, and where you can’t have secrets.

This is a world created by personalization, and it’s on the rise: Google showing personalized search results marked the beginning of the era of personalization. However, Google is not alone: Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and others all use personalization.

We’re used to thinking of the Internet like an enormous library, with services like Google providing a universal map. But that’s no longer really the case. Sites from Google and Facebook to Yahoo News and the New York Times are now increasingly personalized – based on your web history, they filter information to show you the stuff they think you want to see. That can be very different from what everyone else sees – or from what we need to see.

Google looks to your previous queries, and the clicks that follow, and refines its search results accordingly. If you click on gossip blogs like Gawker rather than Netflix after searching for the names of movie stars, links to Gawker may feature more prominently.

Likewise, if you have hundreds of Facebook friends, you only see relevant updates from your closest friends. Facebook relies on your earlier interactions to predict what, and who is most likely to interest you.

So, if you’re were following the NCAA tournament, friends who post articles or videos relating to March Madness may feature more prominently than posts from those who couldn’t care less about basketball, even if you are “friends” with them. 

This is called the filter bubble. The filter bubble is the universe of information individualized for each one of us. It is completely individual, transparent and out of our control. Your filter bubble is this unique, personal universe of information created just for you by an array of personalized filters. It’s invisible and it’s becoming more and more difficult to escape.

This book, written by Eli Pariser, aims to explore the implications of the filter bubble, mostly focusing on the risks, and to make them, and the bubble itself, visible. This book draws attention to the growing power of information intermediaries.

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.

The Filter Bubble reveals how personalization could undermine the internet’s original purpose as an open platform to spread ideas. But it is not too late to change course. Pariser lays out a new vision for the web, one that embraces the benefits of technology without turning a blind eye to its negative consequences, and will ensure that the Internet lives up to its transformative promise.
So, how are we, as a collective, going to change this? Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Kyndall DySard, ’17