Review: The Filter Bubble by Eli Paliser
Title: The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You
Author: Pariser, Eli
Length: 294 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Technology, Politics
Publisher / Year: The Penguin Press / 2011
Source: Borrowed from Carina.
Why I Read It: After reading Carina’s review I knew I wanted to read this book. While visiting her I saw it in a pile of books and she was kind enough to let me borrow it
Date Read: 23/06/11
*cowers in the corner* *looks around furtively* (whispers) “They’re watching, did you know?”
OK maybe I’m overreacting, but only slightly! This is a seriously important book for everyone who is reading this – if you are reading this you are on the internet and so you need to know the information presented in this book. It is done so in a very easy to read manner and written in terms that the most internet-un-savvy will understand, but be warned, this will change the way you view the internet forever.
You probably don’t know this (well, I am assuming that you don’t because I didn’t) but if you and I do a Google search on the exact same search term(s)… we will get different results. According to the book anyway. He talks about experiments that he did to test this and the conversations with Google staff that confirmed this. BUT when I tested this with my roommate it didn’t work, so I’m not quite sure.
Through this book Pariser talks a lot about the ways that personalization is now driving a lot of the growth on the internet and the negative effects that this can cause in terms of our core belief systems. He talks about why it is happening and how everything that we do online is tracked and stored in databases (he helpfully lists a few things we can do to try to stay less documented)
Democracy requires citizens to see things from one another’s point of view, but instead we’re more and more enclosed in our own bubbles. Democracy requires a reliance on shared facts; instead we’re being offered parallel but separate universes. (page 5)
And not only that, if we are all seeing our own personalized news items, think of the journalistic integrity that is being lost. Instead of everyone hearing about a scandal or misreported fact, only a few might hear about it, and what does that mean when it comes to accountability? An example that Pariser uses is that even if we skip the front page of the newspaper, we will at least see the headline and know that something happened – or at least know that we skipped the page so there is other news occurring!
[...] what is good for consumers is not necessarily good for citizens. What I seem to like may not be what I actually want, let alone what I need to know to be an informed member of my community or country. (page 18)
This is a huge issue for democratic countries, of course, and the changes in the ways we get our media aren’t good when we think of it this way. If “Likes” and statistics drive what gets published and what we see, we will see more of the celebrity type news and less of the important things. For example.
Few people seek out information on homelessness, or share it, for that matter. In general, dry, complex, slow-moving problems – a lot of the truly significant issues – won’t make the cut. And while we used to rely on human editors to spotlight these crucial problems, their influence is now waning. (page 151)
Of course the author is not arguing against the internet in this book or in these examples, he is simply pointing out problems that exist and that we, as consumers online, need to be aware of. The way that these online systems are built affect the way they work and the way that our culture will shift. These are incredibly important matters and ones that we all need to know more about.
Other topics that Pariser discusses are serendipity and how random thoughts and pairings are often behind the biggest creations. He also talks about reinforcing stereotypes and how the more we see something the more importance it gains in our lives and how the personalization can augment certain aspects of our personality in this way. He also talks about the centralization of power by the few major corporations who host the websites and run the search engines. One of the scariest parts for me was reading about how information is sold to and used by advertisers and some of the future advertising tricks that will be coming out to target us each more accurately.
Pariser ends with solutions and ideas which is helpful and makes the reader slightly less paranoid. He talks about the need to get back to what the original intent of the internet was – to bring people and communities together, not just if they have the same interests but those across a variety of interests to share and discuss. We should be able to know what information is stored about us, why, and how it is being used (and by whom). We should be able to opt out of certain pieces and fine-tune the way that our information is stored and used in clear and easy ways. We should be able to talk online without worry, and I do hope that we move more toward that.
Again, I highly recommend this very readable and informative book to anyone who uses the internet. The information contained within the pages are important for all of us, and we all have a very large stake in what happens.
Also, in related news: On the same day that I read this book / scheduled this review, a news article was released saying that the US government is poised to start anti-trust investigation into whether Google was abusing its power and dominance. Do check out the full article.