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Results May Vary: How Google Altered Its Filter Bubble

March 4, 2012

On the web we often see a lot of what we’d like to see and not much of what might make us uncomfortable. The Internet creates personalized comfort zones for each one of us. ‘Like’ a link on a friend’s Facebok page or rate a movie on Netflix or subscribe to a playlist on Spotify or search for anything on Google: all of these actions help create algorithms that then attempt to predict what we want or don’t want online.

Last year I wrote about the phenomenon through the lens of a talk Eli Pariser did at TED as well the issue of filter bubbles. These ‘bubbles’ create an alternate information universe for each of us and by doing so provide more information junk food (whatever you read first be it the political or entertainment pages) and not enough information diner foods (what you need to know, but don’t spend much time engaging with). We miss views and voices that challenge our own thinking. In Pariser’s book The Filter Bubble Parsier argues that point saying when internet services personalize results, people wind up seeing only what those providers believe they want to see –information that reinforces their beliefs.

This past January Google responded to that and other criticisms began offering a simpler way to turn off its non-location based filters. A quick opt-out button prevents Google from using your previous history in current searches.  Faced with so much speculation on the morality of ‘filter bubbles’ Google has responded saying:

This would seemingly address the complaint that the web has become an echo chamber except that Google has also announced it is its merging accounts. By combing YouTube and Google privacy policies the company is allowed to collect and share data from all its products. Google doesn’t sell personal information, but it can still be handed over to government offices, due to provisions in the Patriot Act.

The company says it’s doing this to improve the user experience. The change will help make web searches more accurate and provider a ‘better’ experience by syncing all users data to the point that your Picassa or Blogger account could remind you of a meeting from your calendar.

Ideally, the Internet is the great equalizer opening up the same unlimited access to everyone. In a perfect world personalization would streamline discovery of information on an individual level.

If users don’t begin to do their part to chip away at the consensus generator the web has become, its promise will give way to an unthinking and more narcissist populous.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2012 12:59 PM

    Kudos for this blog. Truly fascinating and well penned blog post. I look forward to see even more soon.

  2. March 19, 2012 10:04 AM

    Wonderful blog post. Very engrossing and accurately composed article. I will come back in the near future.

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