While I like to learn, what I enjoy most about reading is the escape from reality. The exploration of a new world or an alternate reality of our own. So it is safe to say it is rare for me to read a non-fiction book. It is even more rare for me to actually like one. So when my husband brought home The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You by Eli Pariser, I was surprised at how much I was interested in reading it.
In the book, Pariser discusses the personalization of the internet by companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and others. He touches on how these searches are customized and considers the impacts these customizations have on society today. The biggest impact he sees is called the “filter bubble,” where each person lives inside their own personalized space. It prevent us from learning new things or looking at a different point of view.
One of the most jarring examples I can throw at you would be this one. Let’s say you are a conservative. You aren’t necessarily a far-right one, but some of your friends are. They post articles on Facebook that you may click on to read. Maybe even some of their comments or your statuses have to do with conservative politics. You’ve Googled conservative politicians that you heard made some statement or other. But, you might be open to hear the other side. What you may not know is that Google has taken those searches and put them in your “profile.” So now, when you search for a liberal politician, a hate-page may appear at the top of the search results. Facebook has also made a “profile” about you. It thinks you like your conservative friends more because you’ve clicked on their links. So, now your news feed shows those people first, and may even drop some of your liberal friends out of the “Top Stories.” Both sites may show you conservative ads for Fox News. So, you continue to read these types of news stories, and rarely come across something that could open your mind to a new way of thinking.
Now, maybe it isn’t that extreme all the time, but the fact remains, companies are creating profiles about every person who use their services. They tailor ads, searches, and news feeds based on this profile. The real problem is, there is no way to view this profile or tell these companies they are wrong. Oh, and did I mention, they also read your email?
I read this book back in 2011, when it was released. At the time I was getting married and had been emailing about a lot of wedding things using my Gmail account. My co-workers and I wanted to test Google and the profile they had started on us. We Googled “Wedding,” and the results were vastly different for me. I am not just talking about the ads in the side bar, but the actual search results. I had links that were not even on the first page for the girl sitting next to me.
At the time I read this book, I was already aware of the customization being used by companies. And I am sure now, in 2013, that this is old news to a lot of people. But what I enjoyed about the book was the deeper concerns he raised about society. It shocked me a little. It even made me a little paranoid when I was reading it. Now I am just more aware of what I do online. I actively go to my News Feed on Facebook and click the “Most Recent” link, because I like to see what everyone has to say even if Facebook thinks I like some people more than others. I actively look at opposing news rather than just the liberal sites. I am also a little more careful of what I Google.
I find many non-fiction books long-winded. Sure, they need to quote sources, but did they really need to explain it in such a boring way? I didn’t get that feeling from The Filter Bubble. I was engaged throughout, and best of all it got me thinking. I would give it an 8 out of 10. I recommend everyone read it.
And if non-fiction isn’t your thing, than just take away from this his main point: expand your horizons. There are millions of people living in the United States alone, yet we could never be more divided. If just a quarter of those people made a small change to read an opposing viewpoint, maybe we could slowly eliminate bigotry, racism, or homophobia. Or maybe the bigots, racists, and homophobes would just be better informed.
What is your opinion about the profiles being created on you? Do you fear that your profile is skewing your point of view?