The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think (Google eBook)

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Penguin, May 12, 2011 - Technology & Engineering - 304 pages
6 Reviews
An eye-opening account of how the hidden rise of personalization on the Internet is controlling-and limiting-the information we consume.

In December 2009, Google began customizing its search results for each user. Instead of giving you the most broadly popular result, Google now tries to predict what you are most likely to click on. According to MoveOn.org board president Eli Pariser, Google's change in policy is symptomatic of the most significant shift to take place on the Web in recent years-the rise of personalization. In this groundbreaking investigation of the new hidden Web, Pariser uncovers how this growing trend threatens to control how we consume and share information as a society-and reveals what we can do about it.

Though the phenomenon has gone largely undetected until now, personalized filters are sweeping the Web, creating individual universes of information for each of us. Facebook-the primary news source for an increasing number of Americans-prioritizes the links it believes will appeal to you so that if you are a liberal, you can expect to see only progressive links. Even an old-media bastion like The Washington Post devotes the top of its home page to a news feed with the links your Facebook friends are sharing. Behind the scenes a burgeoning industry of data companies is tracking your personal information to sell to advertisers, from your political leanings to the color you painted your living room to the hiking boots you just browsed on Zappos.

In a personalized world, we will increasingly be typed and fed only news that is pleasant, familiar, and confirms our beliefs-and because these filters are invisible, we won't know what is being hidden from us. Our past interests will determine what we are exposed to in the future, leaving less room for the unexpected encounters that spark creativity, innovation, and the democratic exchange of ideas.

While we all worry that the Internet is eroding privacy or shrinking our attention spans, Pariser uncovers a more pernicious and far- reaching trend on the Internet and shows how we can- and must-change course. With vivid detail and remarkable scope, The Filter Bubble reveals how personalization undermines the Internet's original purpose as an open platform for the spread of ideas and could leave us all in an isolated, echoing world.
  

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Sometimes, a book is more valuable because of the conversations it provokes than its actual content. This may turn out to be one of the those book. Eli Pariser pushes the panic button a bit too frequently for my taste, especially when he starts talking about some of what he terms "odd" viewpoints held by some in Silicon Valley. Of course, my viewpoints are pretty odd so that may be a personal issue. :)
The author tends to lump together all personalization as being a concern. While I am 100% sold on the concerns about filtering creating a bubble of sycophants, the criticism of tailored advertising seems to be more that it isn't very good yet. A lot of the criticism seems to be aimed more at the general characteristics of the modern corporation than the specific companies cited. Those that are (justifiably) concerned about this should check out "Move to Amend" for lots more on this topic.
I was also hoping for some more actionable ways to reduce the filter effect beyond the suggestions given. The suggestions seemed in line with something I already do - try to read at least one thing every day that you disagree with. And be aware that everything you perceive is filtered.
Despite all of this, Pariser did a good job of supporting his key points. The book has sparked a conversation and driven actions by social media companies that probably would not have happened otherwise. It's a good introduction to the topic yet those that have been online as long as I have probably won't get a lot out of it.
 

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Reviewing an extremely critical book with views that I strongly agree with is harder than I thought it would be. Overall, I agree with almost all of Pariser’s notions. He is deeply worried about what will happen if our Internet worlds continue to get filtered and filtered until our computers know exactly what we want to ask them before we even get the chance to. First of all, The Filter Bubble is a concept, coined by Pariser, used to explain what the new generation of the Internet really is doing to us. He says that the “internet filter looks at the things you seem to like- the actual things you’ve done, or the things people like you like- and tries to extrapolate.” This used to just be a worry because of Google, but now more than a handful of sites and companies are adopting this type of optimization, especially for marketing. It optimizes everything, business wise. Advertisements are as streamlined as they could possibly be and the user is never getting pulled in the wrong direction towards something they are uninterested in. It’s a win-win situation, right? Pariser points out the flaws with this model that has become so embedded within our technological framework.
This book is for everybody that is curious about where things could go if we are not careful as well as media critics wondering what’s next. In Nancy Baym’s book “Personal Connections in the Digital Age” she critically defines technological determinism. I think that Pariser opinions are closely aligned with the theory of technological determinism. We hope that the public sphere is stronger than what will happen at the next Apple conference. We hope that the public will affect the technology, not the other way around. But with search personalization as a legitimate thing we are now dealing with, I am more fearful of what will happen to society if our own individual filter bubbles get smaller and more confined (Pariser as well).
Pariser is good at taking the other side as well, understanding that this is a sticky situation because having optimized results fitting our interests really does help, a lot of the time, and he says that, “to some extent, we’ve always consumed media that appealed to our interests and avocations and ignored much of the rest” but the difference now, is that, there are three new dynamics:
1) You are the only person in your filter bubble.
2) Your filter bubble is invisible: it’s hard to believe that results showing up on your Google or yahoo page are biased or subjective since you are not told this is what is going on.
3) You don’t choose to enter the bubble. Unlike television, where you know, most of the time, what type of view you are getting, the Internet is seemingly democratic and open, leading you to believe that what you stumble upon, is really just stumbling.
And Pariser says, it is not just stumbling!! This is the point he makes again and again that resonates with me. We believe that the internet is full of free information waiting for us to soak it up, what we don’t know is how much information and media we are missing just because of our past search history. What if there was a day where you binged on Justin Bieber videos? You may start seeing more celebrity-focused news and advertisements rather than what’s currently going on in Libya or Egypt. This is something to be worried about.
 

Contents

The John Irving Problem
Click Signals
Facebook Everywhere
The Data Market
The Rise and Fall of the General Audience
A New Middleman
The Big Board
Of Apple and Afghanistan
Playing It Coy
The 50 Billion Sand Castle
What Game Are You Playing?
The Robot with Gaydar
The Future Is Already Here
The End of Theory
No Such Thing as a Free Virtual Lunch
A Shifting World

A Fine Balance
The Adderall Society
The Age of Discovery
On California Island
A Bad Theory of You
Targeting Your Weak Spots
A Deep and Narrow Path
Incidents and Adventures
Lords of the Cloud
Friendly World Syndrome
The Invisible Campaign
Fragmentation
Discourse and Democracy
The Empire of Clever
The New Architects
Losing Control
The Mosaic of Subcultures
What Individuals Can Do
What Companies Can Do
What Governments and Citizens Can Do
Introduction
The Race for Relevance
The User Is the Content
The Adderall Society
The You Loop
The Public Is Irrelevant
Hello World
What You Want Whether You Want It or Not
Escape from the City of Ghettos
Copyright

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