You’ve probably heard by now that Google has tried to make search more user friendly with added enhancements like Google Instant and Google +1—both are Google’s attempts to become more social. Though annoying at times, Google Instant has been widely accepted as a predictable way to search online. Last week I heard a disturbing radio segment on how our search patterns impact our search results. This piece that aired on NPR last week regarding online personalization was both thought provoking and disturbing.
So what was featured? The Filter Bubble, a book written by Eli Pariser, former Director of a company that provided an online political platform for all Americans. Eli was invited to be a guest on the Diane Rehm Show to speak about his new book and how this type of online profiling is affecting our daily lives—shaping our views and opinions in a slightly distorted fashion. He cites examples where two individuals who may be searching on exactly the same keyword will receive two completely different results based on prior searches.
Eli sites an example where, as a liberal, he is always interested in hearing what the conservatives have to say on any given controversial topic via Facebook. Suddenly the social network began editing out Eli’s conservative friends from his Facebook feed. It made him question the authenticity of his SERP (search engine results page) and decided to take it one step further to find out if his findings were true. He asked two of his friends to search on the term “Egypt” where one friend received results that were totally different from the other friend’s results. One showed results relating to travel while the other showed results relating to political unrest in Egypt. They received two completely different results even though they were using the same search term and searched at exactly the same time of day.
At what point do we allow algorithms to shape our thoughts, ideas, withhold and restrict our means of information? When do we stop and say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore?” Okay, a bit extreme. Most folks are okay with personalized search, but there are some who are questioning its reasoning. Are we not living in a society where all information is accessible to all? And who is telling Google and Facebook that filtering our results is good for our health? I want both sides of the story.
Initially, the internet was referred to as Information Highway which meant that information was shared in both directions. When did it become a one-way street? If that is the case then I need to take a detour, because it seems as though freedom of information has become one-sided.
What are your thoughts on this?