Every click you make, they’ll be watching you.

If you are reading this, chances are that our filter bubbles overlap.  You and I like similar things, watch similar videos, read similar news and information sources, and maybe even shop for the same things online.  I refuse to join Facebook, so I can’t speak to our having similar friends.

Another type of filter.

Last night I finished reading Eli Pariser’s book, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You.   He also has a blog if you get really interested.  What I read confirmed some strange things I’ve noticed in the past few years, but really freaked me out about others.

I do a lot of Google Scholar and plain-old Google searches for work.  I’ve noticed that I and a friend can type in the same key words and get completely different stuff.  The key of course is making sure you check out links beyond page 3 or 4.  Basically, Google has this set of algorithms it uses to predict what you are looking for.  It removes all the fun out of what I call the encyclopedia effect (encyclopedias are what we had before PCs and Wiki).  Basically, a search for one topic leads you to another and another and another until you’ve spent an entire sunny afternoon at the library reading up on cool stuff you’d never heard about before.  Wiki does the same thing if you let it.  And I read for hours on Wookieepedia.  🙂

I’ve also noticed recently that I get a lot of shoe, running gear, and standing desk adverts (I like to stand when I work).  This is an Amazon/NetFlix-type algorithm.  All the different sites you visit keep track of your clicks using cookies.  Aggregators sell the information to companies who then target their advertising directly.  Kinda neat, kinda creepy.  I do like getting book recommendations, but could do without all the shoe advertising – it would work if I had a foot fetish I guess.  Google has some sort of program to deal with the porn clicks so you aren’t bombarded at work.  Not that I need to worry or anything.

Facebook does similar, insidious stuff.  You like something and it gets passed on to friends.   Only your friends updates are posted to your wall (?).  Everyone tells me Facebook is a great way to keep track of all your friends and what they are doing.  And Failbook posts are hysterical.  But like I said, I don’t have Facebook.  I prefer Facetofacebook (thanks Seth!).

So, what to do?  Some of the recommendations in the book to “fight the AI-man” include:

  1. Don’t be predictable in what you search, what websites you visit, and how often you do so.  Basically, seek out one or two new things a day.  Check out something you’ve heard about but never understood.  Read that article about the horrible on-going war in Sudan.  Check out hot surfer babes if you don’t surf.  That sort of thing.  The greater the diversity the better.
  2. Toss your cookies.  No, I’m not recommending becoming bulimic.  Click on Tools at the top of your browser and clear your recent history on a regular basis.   Yes, it is a pain to lose your password and logins but you really should be changing those on a regular basis.
  3. Use sites that give you more control over your personal information and are transparent about how they run things.  Twitter is apparently more transparent than Facebook.   Who knew?  And remember that you need to check your defaults on Facebook.
  4. Advocate for greater transparency on the Internet.  This requires a bit more work, but they say that things worth having usually cost more.  Whoever they is.   The FTC Fair Information Practice Principles, first proposed in 1973, would go a long way in making sure we knew who had our personal information and what they were doing with it.

Basically, if we let others choose for us we lose opportunities to expose ourselves to new ideas, creativity, and to essentially shape ourselves.  That’s a pretty big loss.

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