A Highway to Me

I wanted to write a quick blog post about the problem of search engines and advertisers targeting ads, and search result information specifically to each of our individual needs. I wrote about this in an earlier post about Google’s privacy policies, policies that went into effect yesterday.

Anyway, this morning I woke up to a friend complaining about Facebook’s algorithm regarding the posts we see on our news feeds. Now, people complain about Facebook.  It’s like breathing; you’re not alive unless you’re taking a little bit of time out of your day to bitch about Facebook changes. Facebook could change one color, on one letter, which would show up on one place on your Facebook wall, and somebody would complain about. But I honestly feel the complaint I read today is valid: 

so what I really want to know is… Why Facebook needs to prioritize
my wall based on it’s perceived notion of what I want to see. I’ve got
my sort set to “Most Recent,” and STILL the first post is from an hour
ago and the second is from 9 minutes ago. Thinking about boycotting FB

Part of the problem is that the information we are now being exposed to daily on the Internet is being narrowed to target OUR INDIVIDUAL interests. This is happening at Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and elsewhere.

(Please prepare for a Second Person Dream Sequence, putting YOU in the driver’s seat) 

Consider this, you are someone who likes to use the Internet occasionally for Porn (I used this example simply because the musical Avenue Q is hilarious, and it gives me an opportunity to post this video).
Now let’s pretend you spent time daily reading the casual meet-ups over at Craigslist, just five minutes with your afternoon coffee on your phone, or you search for adult sites at home, alone with your computer. You might even enjoy Avenue Q and watch the “Internet is for Porn” musical number, and follow that up with a funny condom commercial your FB friend posted the other day.

Your next interest might be video games and blogs on video games: “Laura Craft is hot,” you once wrote on a blog.

Now consider this, algorithms have now identified you as someone who enjoys pornography, hot virtual chicks, hot puppet chicks, adult night clubs, and video games.  Hum the picture becomes … well questionable.  Now let’s say you want to search for results on a topic regarding our prison system for a paper that’s due for school. You put in your search parameters: “men versus women behind bars,” because you’re researching about the ratio of men to women within the prison system. What you think your search might bring back? Probably a series of webpages that not only cater to pornography, but adult entertainment sites, people who do odd things with stuffed animals, and maybe a video game or two in the same category. Maybe you’re going to be sent to that swingers bar down the street.

The bottom line is this, your information has now been narrowed, and the moment you have changed your interest, that narrow view of this algorithm, or that algorithm has about you has made grand assumptions about you want to see on your computer screen. 

Now, the opposing argument might be this: the more my algorithm knows about you, and all the searches you do every year, every day, every minute, and all the places you visit on the internet, the better it will be able to return information for you, personally, as a special individual.

But this type of information gathering and returns deceives the audience member seeking  information. For example, I have no idea what is been filtered out of that information or the search returns, and I am now living in a sort of a bubble where my Internet experience is kind of like having a personal “yes-man,” someone who will only agree with my interests, and never challenge me.

In this particular world, if I am a conservative individual, I will only get search results that will reinforce my conservative nature. The same goes for the liberal searching for information. Once this divide becomes established, how can the conservative ever truly reach out to liberal and Vice versa?

I hate being alarmist, and I love my Internet, but I must ask: what will this do for communications and knowledge in the real world? Do we really want algorithms to become the new gatekeepers of information?

What do you think?

A quick update!  A friend just pointed me to the book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You by Eli Pariser. I have never read this text, but it does look it examines this problem in depth!  If you are interested in this issue, consider this text.  R

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