The dangers of the internet: Invisible sieve


"The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You.By Eli Pariser. Penguin Press; 294 pages; $25.95. Viking; £12.99.Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

ELI PARISER is worried. Why? Call a friend in another city or a foreign country, and ask them to Google something at the same time as you. The results will be different, because Google takes your location, your past searches and many other factors into account when you type in a query. In other words, it personalises the results. As Larry Page, the chief executive of Google, once put it, “the ultimate search engine would understand exactly what you mean, and give back exactly what you want.” Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, muses that someday it might be possible for people to ask Google which college they should apply for, or which book to read next.

This is only one example of internet personalisation. Mr Pariser, an internet activist best known as a leading light at MoveOn.org, a progressive online campaign group, sees this as a dangerous development. Netflix, Amazon and Pandora can predict with astonishing accuracy whether you will enjoy a particular film, book or album, and make appropriate recommendations. Facebook shows you updates from the friends you interact with the most, filtering out people with whom you have less in common. “My sense of unease crystallised when I noticed that my conservative friends had disappeared from my Facebook page,” Mr Pariser writes. The result is a “filter bubble”, which he defines as “a unique universe of information for each of us”, meaning that we are less likely to encounter information online that challenges our existing views or sparks serendipitous connections. “A world constructed from the familiar is a world in which there’s nothing to learn,” Mr Pariser declares. He calls this “invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas..”


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