Week 4: Personalized Content and the Internet

The readings this week examine how the Internet as evolved into a tool of personalization. An environment that allows users to see news, advertisements, etc. that are personalized to their interests. While some may view this technology advancement as positive, there is a flip side, individuals are now in a ‘filter bubble’ where they have the option to only see the content they want to see, not the content that they need to see to make informed decisions.

In Eli Pariser’s “The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You”, he discusses how powerful websites, such as Google and Facebook, have become. Their technologies have advanced in ways that allows data about your interests and behaviors to be applied to almost every other aspect of the web. This allows personalized advertisements, suggestions, web searches, etc. Not only are websites able to track what you do on their website, but they are able to track where else you go on the web, what you click on, who you interact with, etc. The more data that is collected, the more personalization occurs.

In “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom”, Morozov discusses how the Internet and the personalization of content has effected political involvement and attitudes in many authoritarian counties. For example, in Russia, instead of the typical censorship many authoritarian counties place on the Internet, content on the Internet isn’t as screened as one might think. However, personalization has been used in ways that suggest users are only seeing what they want to see, entertainment content, and not what they need to see, political information. Both of these readings discuss how personalization may distract users from getting objective, well-rounded information

In the past and even now, though tradition journalism is shrinking, newspapers were able to act as a ‘watchdog’’ over the government because they received funding from advertising, not from the government. This allowed the citizens to receive objective, un-censored news. Now, with the decline of newspapers and the increased involvement in the Internet, is the same true? Do advertisers or even large websites such as Google have enough power to decide what information we see and what we are exposed to? Pariser’s idea of a ‘filter bubble’ can be applied here. Many people think of a ‘filter bubble’ as the users choice; if an individual only wants to view certain information, they now have that choice; they don’t have to go looking for diverse content. However, I think large online companies now have the power to personalize what we see, but also filter out items that might be of interest to the users, but not in the interest of the company as a whole. Do you think large website such as Google and Facebook know too much about us as individuals, and could us it in ways to sway opinions?

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7 Responses to Week 4: Personalized Content and the Internet

  1. I agree that the increased personalization of the Internet has left us with a jaded view of various aspects of social life, political involvement at the top of this list. We discussed how sites as well as search engines can manipulate algorithms to filter the most important pieces of information for their agendas so they end up at the top of our searches, prominent in our advertisements, etc. While this is pretty ineffective for those looking to reach a wide audience, or advocates of an un-personalized web, I also think that if given the choice to receive random ads or personalized ones, most web users would choose to receive ads catered to their interests; and considering the Internet is based on the needs and wants of the users, I guess the developers have the right idea.

  2. jessliu91 says:

    Personally, I don’t think there was ever a time where people could read unbiased and uncensored news. Editors still decide what to put in a newspaper and what to leave out. When journalists are writing an article, they unconsciously incorporate their own view into the story. Therefore, I don’t think that the content we’re receiving through the internet is less objective than what we read in the newspaper. In fact, the internet does potentially allow people to maybe make the articles even more objective than articles in newspapers. For example, users can comment or even edit, as in the case with Wikipedia, articles that are misleading.

    With that in mind, I do believe that Google and Facebook are extremely powerful because they do know a lot about its users. And I think it’s extremely problematic that their personalization algorithms filter information in such a way that we will never be able to receive it. It is in essence making the choice of what to read for us as opposed to people choosing what they want to read. Whether or not this information can be used to sway opinions however, is up to debate. On one hand, because they have our information, we are only seeing certain articles which can influence how we view the world. But on the other hand, just because Google or another company has our information does not imply that they can change our opinions. If someone truly wanted to find out something, he/she can with the Internet.

  3. goblu says:

    I do think that companies know to much about the internet users as a whole. As you said, the readings show that companies like google and facebook will completely filter out information if the user has not looked at it at all. I was always under the impression that this technique was used to sell more product but I think you bring up a very interesting point about companies also filtering out media that would hurt the major company. I think this is a great ploy by the big businesses, I just never thought about personalized advertising in that way.
    Also, you bring up a point saying that Russia’s censorship “content on the Internet isn’t as screened as one might think.” Do you think that the idea of less censorship is true? Or is it what the government wants you to believe when in reality they are actually censoring a lot of information while spying on citizens? I personally agree with Marozov; I think that the type of censorship, even in Russia, is the type of “Brave New World” censorship, where the people just believe the government is not controlling what they see.

  4. nvelaga says:

    I do think that sites, like Facebook and Google know too much about us. When we see ads cater edto us, we are left with a narrower span of knowledge of what is out there. I feel like we do definitely have the 2000s censorship going on here, also known as “Brave New World” censorship .We definitely think that the personalization that happens on the web is normal and part of our life; we really don’t think much of it. I definitely think that from an advertiser’s point of view, the personalization that can happen really stimulates demand and helps reach the target market of the product/ service that the company is advertising more easily. But do I think this is effective? No because people tend to ignore stuff online, even if it may be personally targeting them.

  5. arpeters says:

    I definitely agree that website such as Google and Facebook know too much about us as individuals, and that they could use this information to sway our opinions. Through the function of filtering, we could be left only viewing certain news stories on Google or the New York Times or specific opinions of our friends on Facebook that fail to provide the whole picture. Therefore, we may actually be becoming less-informed because Google and Facebook are beginning to form our opinion for us. In turn, this could lead to people becoming more stubborn and less willing to listen to others’ opinions on certain issues. This notion of filtering could ultimately become a vicious circle, leading many to become more biased on certain issues because it is taking away our selection process.

  6. danicawhitfield says:

    I think that the plentiful amount of information that online companies such as Google and Facebook know about us is partly a good and bad thing. To answer the question you posed, I think that those companies cannot sway our opinions if we are actively seeking unbiased information. To clarify, they can cater our searches to auto-correct to something that pertains to our interests or show us ads about a certain political party but their overall purpose is to provide us with information. Yes, they can filter which information comes out on top, but they can’t stop us from finding the other information that is available to everyone else. I think that you made a good point in stating that the the companies can distract us from getting objective well-rounded information which is essentially what they do when they put ads that we might like or search results more pertinent to our needs on top. The good thing is that they can take all of our personal information but they can’t completely block off all of the information available online.

    The bad thing about this is that they will make us go on a wild goose chase to find that information. It’s hard to go on the internet and want an unbiased experience when every click you make is giving away more and more about who you are and what you like. I wonder if we could ever reach a happy medium with being able to send a little information to the companies but still have the option to go to a web page with an ‘unbiased’ filter.

  7. I think that the amount of information large online companies, such as Google and Facebook, is worrisome. First, I think that it is bad because we, as the consumer, really do not completely understand just HOW much information these companies have and the multitude of different uses they have for it. SOPA is difficult for me to comprehend, however, one thing that is clear is its complexity and attempt to protect citizen’s privacy. The Bill itself makes it clear that the issue of online companies having information about us is something to be concerned about. While the information can be used to better serve our needs as consumers it is also, in my opinion, being exploited by large online companies who are motivated by profits.

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