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

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Penguin, May 12, 2011 - Technology & Engineering - 304 pages
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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 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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so important

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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.


Title Page
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
Escape from the City of Ghettos

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About the author (2011)

Eli Pariser is the Board President, and former Executive Director, of the 5-million member organization A pioneer in online politics, Pariser is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and a co-founder of, one of the world’s largest citizen organizations. His op-eds have appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal. He grew up in Lincolnville, Me.

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