Week Four

While the Internet has the ability to democratize and inform the public, new personalization features are threatening and destroying this potential.  In his introduction of The Filter Bubble, Eli Pariser explains that an invisible revolution is occurring in the way we consume information.  Democracy requires a reliance on shared facts, and personalization prevents people from receiving the same facts by offering them “parallel but separate universes” (Pariser, 5).  Based on what you “like”, search for, buy, and so on, the Internet orchestrates a personalized world or “bubble” that is specific to you.  Pariser explains “more and more, your computer is a kind of one-way mirror, reflecting your own interests while algorithmic observers watch what you click” (Pariser, 3).

This one-way mirror can become dangerous to democracy and learning.  One of my favorite quotes from Pariser’s introduction is his reference to Danah Boyd’s speech at the 2009 Web 2.0 Expo where she warns that “if we’re not careful, we’re going to develop the psychological equivalent of obesity” (Pariser, 14).

It is scary to think that we are, in a sense, choosing how we are censored. Our current lifestyles and choices today will become our worst enemy in our quest for objective information and knowledge. How will we ever be exposed to new ideas and different perspectives if we are constantly bombarded with what we already believe?  It’s comfortable in this filter bubble, yes. But what kind of progress could possibly from complacency?

Evengy Morozov expands upon the idea of censorship in the third chapter of his book The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom.  In his discussion of Russian media and politics he states, “the most effective system of Internet control is not the one that has the most sophisticated and draconian system of censorship, but the one that has no need for censorship whatsoever” (Morozov, 58).

How do you feel about personalization on the Internet? Do you see it as a positive feature that improves efficiency and helps us find information that we would normally be looking for anyway? Do you see it as a form of censorship that hinders our right and access to equal information? Or, do you see it as something different?


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3 Responses to Week Four

  1. lily.yan says:

    Personalization of the Internet, in my opinion, was inevitable with the advance of technology and rapid increase of knowledge among think tanks within organizations such as Google, Apple, Amazon, etc. In order to generate more profit, companies are looking for more exact ways to calculate consumer/users’ browsing trends and areas of interest to determine their needs. As stated by Pariser on page 111, “Even if you’re using the highest privacy settings in your Web browser, in other words, your hardware may soon give you away”, alluding to the phenomenon that what we believe is our own private or personal information is now integrated into comprehensive profile databases of these conglomerations. Because the majority of consumers aren’t aware that their Internet activity is being observed on a daily basis, personalization of the Web may prove to be dangerous as it encloses us further into the ‘filter bubble’. Although I don’t see this form of censorship as overly positive to society in the long run, it cannot be fully blamed on these organizations, but partially on the users themselves.

    Conformity is widespread in our society; we associate ourselves with people who have similar interests and believe in values that parallel ours. The notion of interacting with those who mirror our own views touches on Shirky’s concept of homophily in Chapter 9, “grouping of like with like”. In other words, because we feel comfortable and reassured of our beliefs within our own communities, there’s no immediate urgency to escape the bubble. Thus, companies like Google pick up on this social trend of conformity and are able to change how we use the Internet without consequences due to individual unawareness. We must realize our own responsibilities to figure out better ways in fighting the filter bubble and expose ourselves to diverse viewpoints.

  2. It might be difficult to argue otherwise that the personalization of the Internet does not offer its advantages. When we search Google for movie times we sooner find the showing schedule at our local theater; when we browse Facebook the advertisements on the side might be more likely to be for products or services that we are interested in. These are just two pieces of evidence that personalization improves our experiences online. More examples are everywhere.

    • At the same time, though, the personalization of the Internet has had its disadvantages, and foremost among them is the promotion of consuming attitudes and views that merely match – and do not challenge – our own. While it might be partly our responsibility to seek out diverse news sources, the fact news sources that are personalized, such as Google News, are more convenient makes it far more difficult on the news consumer than it should be. One solution might be to bar or discontinue the personalization of such news aggregators; another might be for the sites themselves to use the very same data they gather to personalize to provide an array of diverse news sources. It is important, however it is done, to curb the personalization of the Internet at least with respect to news, even if personalization more broadly speaking is more innocuous.

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