Week 4 Response

The web has become an extremely personalized place.  Almost everything a user views has in some way been personalized to his or her interests.  As Eli Pariser explains in “The Filter Bubble”, companies are finding success once they find a way to become as personalized to individual users as possible.  Amazon, the online book store, was one of the first sites to utilize algorithms that are capable of using data to learn about user’s individual interests.  Amazon’s algorithms allow for instant matching of customers and books.  Amazon was also able to make recommendations for users and see which users had similar preferences.  This allowed users to see which books other users who had similar preferences purchased that week.  PARC (Xerox Palo Alto Research Center) also started the collaborative filtering process which ran in the program, Tapestry.  Tapestry sifted through information and figured out what information was most relevant to each user and ranked information based on its relevance.

Google and Facebook are other examples Pariser offers that used data to offer the most relevant information to their users.  Google uses PageRank to determine which pages are most relevant in search.  Google also uses several algorithms that are able to figure out the groups an individual belongs to and then the search results can be tailored to the individual’s group’s preferences.  Facebook took a different approach, instead of initially using data and algorithms to gain information about users, Facebook asked users for this information.  Later, Facebook became more personalized and easier to use with the use of the EdgeRank algorithm, or the News Feed, as well as Facebook Everywhere.  Facebook Everywhere brought Facebook-style personalization to millions of other online sites.  For example, today the “Like” button can be seen on almost every website online.  Pariser explains how the entire Web can become a platform for Google and Facebook.  Scholz in “Infrastructure: It’s Transformations and Effect on Digital Activism” also points out that half of all web traffic today is concentrated on just 10 websites, Google and Facebook being two of the major sites visited by Web users each day.  While it is true that Google and Facebook control a lot of online traffic, they are also trying to personalize the web for users so that all users do not have the same online experience.

My question for the class is whether the amount of information that can be acquired about us in order to personalize our online experience is at all concerning? Even when we are unaware, Google and other websites are tracking what we are doing online and learning as much as possible about each of us.  Is this personalization nice and convenient, or is it too intrusive?

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3 Responses to Week 4 Response

  1. drewdan89 says:

    I think a very important point is raised here about the personalization of the internet that is created by sites like Google and Facebook. All of us the information we enter on these websites is being tracked, saved, documented, and than used to target us as users with advertisements and what not which in some cases may be convenient, but what are the consequences of this? None of us really know what exactly the repercussions of this saved personal information could be. I really feel like these websites are taking advantage of the power they have and I don’t necessarily think it should just be accepted by everyone and allowed to happen. I don’t know if there is anything that can be done legally about this or if this is just the way it is going to be for some time, but I definitely feel that it is much too intrusive.

  2. cnspin12 says:

    I think this is a great point and is something I talked about in my own blog post. The amount of access that sites like Google and Facebook have to our personal lives is something concerning. The worst part, I think is that we don’t even know when they’re doing it or how it is done. I always think back to when I was confused as to why those ads on the side of my facbeook account or the spam I was getting in my gmail was what I had been searching recently. I could understand Facebook on a certain level … because there is a lot about me as a person on my Facebook. But Google, Amazon, and other sites were quite precise on my interests.

    When it first came out that sites like Google and Facebook were tapping into our personal information to target users specifically, it was a big deal. I remember people being upset that their privacy was being violated. It was a complete breach of our Internet rights. I think that to a certain extent it is allowable because it is the basis of marketing and our cosumeristic society; however, there are certain lines that have been crossed by companies. While this personalization is nice and convenient (for both company and consumer) it is a bit intrusive as it stands now. There should be limits set to make sure that Internet user’s privacy is protected yet companies can still target their users to sell ads and other things pertaining to their sites. It is a part of the marketing world that has developed, so it is slightly inevitable.

    -Caitlin Spinweber

  3. yuille says:

    I do think it is a bit concerning that so much information from our Internet use is being tracked, often without us even realizing it. On Google, for example, people may be aware that their search queries are being tracked, but what they may not know is that Google is tracking their website movement and what ads they view. Often times I’ve heard people remark about how an ad on a random website was so personalized. They don’t realize that it’s no coincidence and that this was by design based on what you do on the Internet.

    Facebook is sort of the same way, except people are more aware that their information — which they voluntarily put online — is being tracked. I personally don’t think it’s a huge deal when most of the data Facebook sells off deals largely with demographics and that sort of information, but perhaps that feeling is simply a byproduct of knowing how little privacy there is online and getting used to it.

    At the end of the day, it’s obvious that you can’t have an ultra-personalized Internet experience without sacrificing some things, such as complete privacy. I personally am not too worried about it as long as all of the data that is tracked is kept anonymous, but if we ever get to the point where data leaks out and can be connected to specific individuals, websites and users alike will have a huge problem on their hands.

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