I found both the readings from Eli Praiser’s The Filter Bubble and Morozov’s The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom to be quite interesting and insightful. In The Filter Bubble, Eli Praiser described how the likes of Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and the duo of Larry Page and Sergey Brin went on to create some of the Internets’ most visited and most intelligent websites, in Amazon, Facebook, and Google. You may be wondering why I indicated that these are some of the most intelligent websites on Web 2.0. The reason that they are “intelligent” is that the creators of these websites used a type of artificial intelligence called machine learning, used in “building systems that tuned themselves, through feedback.” (Praiser, pg. 27) It was through this use of machine learning that allows Amazon to make product recommendations for us, Facebook to “know” which stories we want to see in our news feed, and Google to find the most relevant and personalized results from individuals web searches. A large part of how the personalization on these websites works is through the collection of data from its users. Companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google all track every move that we make on the web while logged into their site, from every link we click on to every other site we visit. There are also numerous low-profile companies such as Acxiom and BlueKai collect data on all internet users, ranging from their current address to whether they own a dog or cat, then sell it to other companies. (Praiser, pg. 43) Near the end of the chapter Praiser presented a great statement relating this data collection to the personalization of internet sites today, stating that “your behavior is now a commodity, a tiny piece of a market that provides a platform for the personalization of the whole internet.” (Praiser, pg. 45) This statement both intrigues me and also causes a slight sense of uneasiness, as i’m sure there is a vast amount of information about myself out there, all for sale to the highest bidder.
In Chapter 3 of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, Morozov describes how the freedom of information created by the Internet causes people within authoritarian societies to care less about politics, as they prefer to use this freedom to consume what Morozov calls “cheap entertainment”. (Pg. 81) Near the end of Chapter 3 he introduces the “Trinity of Authoritarianism,” which includes propaganda, censorship, and surveillance. (Morozov, pg. 82) He addresses that through the use of the Internet, the government, like websites such as Facebook and companies such as Acxiom, is able to keep track of what Internet users in their country are viewing and doing on the internet. Allowing companies to have access to personal Internet use information is one thing, but an authoritarian government having it is all the more scarier.
These readings have lead me to several questions. First and foremost, is it right that companies such as Acxiom are able to sell personal information to companies behind our backs? Also, how much right does our government and others alike have in tracking our Internet use information? Where is the line drawn?