Personalised to death: Filter bubbles

The new levels of data personalisation online threaten to hamper civic engagement by keeping us from being exposed to new ideas and viewpoints. According to Eli Pariser, a cofounder and former Executive Director of MoveOn.org, data aggregators like Google have started using increasingly sophisticated filters to decide what information we consume online.

I could be sat next to my friend each using our laptops and upon searching the exact same thing on google be confronted with entirely different results.

This is because Google now uses 57 different personalisation filters to customize what we see on the Web which makes it harder for us to see news and information that Google’s algorithms suggest might bore us or upset us. What’s particularly disturbing is that these personalisation behaviors take place even if you’re not logged in, and there’s no easy way to opt out of them. Pariser terms this ‘filter bubble’.

While data segmentation is not a new thing these filter bubbles differ in three main ways:

  1. The degree of personalisation is higher  and it is more selective: you’re now  alone in your bubble
  2. Filter bubbles are invisible. You don’t realise they exist.
  3. You don’t choose the filter. It chooses you.

While filters may be a somewhat necessary way to deal with the huge amount of information online they are not good for democracy.

For more about this please see:

http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/2010/06/03/eli-pariser-on-filter-bubbles/

http://www.justmeans.com/PDF-2010-Conference-Mulling-New-Digital-Divide/16980.html

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