The Filter Bubble

What the Internet is Hiding From You

Eli Pariser (MoveOn) 2011

Pariser dislikes web search personalization, and targeted ads, and non-consensus. He notes that if you are getting it for free, you are the product, but doesn't like how free products monetize his use. And he fears that that searches will reinforce prejudice, "the filter bubble", and that this will hurt job prospects of people whose secondary characteristics match those of the people employers filter out.

But he continues to use Facebook and many other "free" tools. He seemingly wants to keep using them, but wants them reshaped according to his liking. Perhaps as in Europe, whose laws and restrictions he cites frequently and seemingly approvingly.

Pariser worries that different people will get different search results, tailored to their past searches, and they will not get the search results a newspaper editor or a progressive thinks they should get. Perhaps Paliser should study the history of newspapers - until the advertiser-driven consolidation of newspapers in the early 20th century, there were a heck of a lot of them, and most were unabashedly partisan; the same small town might have two local newspapers, Democrat and Republican. Advertisers would have to pay both for advertising, though these small papers were almost entirely subscription and sale driven, so many advertisers did not bother. The mid-twentieth century push towards giant newspaper chains and single large newspapers did not eliminate the partisanship, but it toned it down a lot, because of the risk of losing readers or advertisers. The newspapers seemingly carried a lot more international news, and many newspapers had their own foreign correspondents. However, they carried a LOT of advertisements, and there had to be content on each broadsheet double page or readers would skip it. As the advertisements went away, the need for content went away, too. Ads were going away from the content pages before the internet, often to advertiser-printed inserts, or to separate mailers.

Advertisers used to say "half my advertising works, but I don't know which half." What Google provides is a way of learning what half works, and paring the advertising effort needed to reach customers willing to buy. Pariser fears that our habits and moods will be targeted, that we will get ads when we are most susceptable to responding. But back in the days of mass advertising, we were STILL getting ads when we were most susceptable; and all the other people who weren't susceptable got them too. The landfills are full of megatons of unwanted printed ads.

I am bothered, not by personalization, but by how bad it still is. I looked at an Australian blog post the other day, then went looking for windshield wiper inserts (not the whole blade, what a waste!). Google helpfully pointed me at a lot of ads for whole blades, in Australia, until I gave up and visited half-a-dozen auto parts stores instead (Knecht's in Aloha, 10 miles away, had ONE insert). I would pay good money for search that worked for ME, not for the mass marketers - it would save a lot of time.

Unfortunately, the world is full of people like Paliser, who want something better, but aren't interested in paying for it, and want "consensus" (suppression of alternatives) and "government" (taxes and guns) to make the free stuff somehow match their intent. If everyone was a progressive like Paliser, they could all agree on what they want - and the search companies would do an excellent job of providing it, because they would all be progressives wanting the same thing. Sort of a 1950's Ozzie And Harriet universe.

Instead, perhaps Paliser needs to polish up his rusty programming skills and provide web products that do what he wants, and convince other people that they want those products too, enough to pay for them. Or just switch to less popular alternative search engines, like Duckduckgo, and do his social networking face-to-face. He won't get to universal consensus that way, but a world full of identical people is redundant and pointless. If he thinks the world will collapse because the Big Problems aren't getting solved, perhaps he should look at history and realize that most Big Problems turn into little ones when individuals slice off chunks of them and solve them for highly idiosyncratic (and selfish) reasons.

BTW, if he wants to solve problems, he should use Google Scholar more often. He may have to pound his way through thousands of results to get to the academic content he wants, but he can do that in a day, when it used to take months. He can use tools like Worldcat to find that content in libraries, or in the personal websites of individual academics. No, it is not effortless, just easier. Reaching outside the "Filter Bubble" takes more effort than staying inside it. There is no royal road to knowledge and insight.

And if he wants others to follow, he can help. His book is long on complaints, short on suggestions. Perhaps some of those suggestions are on his website, but then, why will giving my personal information to his handlers be any better than giving it to Google?

FilterBubble (last edited 2014-04-23 01:25:07 by KeithLofstrom)