Internet Privacy essay

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Filter Bubble

A Review of What the Internet Is Hiding From You

This paper reviews the book, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You, by Eli Pariser. The purpose of this paper is to analyze this book in an attempt to determine where the future of the internet is headed. The Filter Bubble begins with an overview of how Google began customizing its search results for intent users in 2009 and the results of that customization. The author hypothesizes that the future of the net is personalization. This is the undertone of the entire work. Follow up pieces by the Economist, including several supporting articles, suggest that personalization is indeed the future of the internet. These articles, while not cited by page number as they are online, do show that personalization is occurring. This however, is leading to decreased privacy over the web. This is a primary point Pariser makes throughout his book, as do many other authors (Bohm, 1994; Joy, 2000; Kelly, 2008; Minsky, 1988).

The desire to move into the future in fact, has led to more and more personalization of the internet, and customization of search results (Joy, 2000; Minsky, 1988). The goal of personalization was initially to lead to a more personalized and user-friendly experience. Google planned on improving revenue dollars by targeting advertising based on user clicks from Google advertising dollars. Google tracked and kept personal data that was acquired primarily from user logins and data received from logins. The people using Google did not realize however that if they typed in information, they would receive personalized search results, not the same search results someone else typing in the same information would receive. Ultimately, over the next few years this trend should continue, at least, that is the goal that Google and other major search engines have.

To accomplish this, Google has had to collect and store vast quantities of user's personal information. Many feel that today's Internet Giants, Google, Facebook, Apple, and others are not secretly tracking personal information so they can shape our identities, so they can form what exactly we see when we go to the Net. This eventually will shape what we like on the Net. This may result in a homogenous collection of "bubbles" of people that search for information on the web. Many people are afraid this will eventually reshape what the face of web users will become, a homogenous population of people that is dumbed down.


The internet has become increasingly popular in recent years, the new go to source for information, breaking news, and as a tool for socially connecting to ones friends, relatives, and business associates. In fact, more people use the internet than any other media outlet as their primary source of content whether for movies, information, news, books, reviews, or simply to pass the time. In recent years Google and other major search engines have customized these search results that clients have used as society has entered what Pariser refers to as a new era of personalization. The future of the internet will be increasing personalization. Pariser points out however, that this may result in security breaches, and increasing lack of privacy to anyone that uses this net. This sentiment is echoed by various authors (Bohm, 1994; Joy, 2000; Kelly, 2008; Minsky, 1988).

This has changed with way users interact with the web, as the web has become increasingly tailored to meet user's needs. Pariser expresses concerns over the internet's new shape, which he refers to as the "filter bubble," the product of filtering out information over time to deliver to clients what they "want" rather than what they should or necessarily need to see from day-to-day.

Whether people know it, or want it or not, programmers and engineers are now actively at work behind the scenes, shaping the future of society. Programmers working behind the scene, even hackers, are interested in gathering personalized information. The more social media users link email accounts, social media accounts and other information, the more likely they are to become known to others throughout the world. The programmers behind the scenes are working toward a future that is homogenous, depersonalized and customized. They are busy helping to solve what they believe to be the big problems of our age. For some, these are nothing more than how Google and other major search engines can keep people on the web for longer periods of time so they can make more money. For others it is how they can build an engaged and more informed citizenry. Ideally this would be the goal for everyone; how can society become more engaged, informed and linked with one another. How can we engaged society in a more peaceful manner so as to promote the common good of one another? Unfortunately this is not always the goal of everyone. Some people still see the net as a form of entertainment, or as a tool to promote gossip. Programmers don't always see this end goal, while others take advantage of it to promote their own self-interests, and sell goods to the ignorant that can't afford them anyway. What Pariser points out is that programmers and engineers who will do more good are needed, rather than those that will promote more evil (p. 188).

Free Exchange of Information

Pariser starts off with many premises, including the idea that the internet was founded on the premise that people should be able to freely exchange ideas and information. One of the reasons the internet was so well liked initially was because people could go online and be whoever they wanted. They could freely exchange information. When it was first started, the internet is nothing more than a free exchange of information. So commonly known was this that the government used it as much as the public. It still does, but it uses it for many different reasons. Today, the internet is more a data gathering tool than it is simply a machine for freely sharing information. There are many countries that inhibit the free sharing of information because they impose tight controls on the sharing of information, and for good reason. Countries like China and other tight-lipped nation states have already imposed a filter bubble of sorts so that people are not able to freely share and exchange information. While governments freely collect information about people, they do this so they can monitor the activity of citizens and would-be revels. To hear of that here in the states still causes outrage among some people, but it shouldn't at least not in the near future.

In an article published by the Economist in 2010, the internet is referred as a "trade pact" more so than an invention, as "a network of networks" one that has grown astonishingly fast over the past 15 years because more and more networks connected to it as it continued to grow. In fact, the internet was quoted as being largely responsible for dissolving many of the traditional boundaries that existed between "academic, corporate, and consumer networks, like those that used to exist between large corporate moguls CompuServe and AOL (Economist, 2010 Feb). The comparison was made between free-trade agreement between countries, and the gains made from the internet when exchanges of data allowed innovation to "flourish." The U.S. used to pride itself over this free exchange of information. Now however, people are beginning to see just how this free exchange of information how eroded so many traditional revenues and streams of income and information, such as schools, books, publishing companies and even the music industry. The free exchange of information has come at a price. The internet is now so large that government entities and corporations want to use it in new ways, because what is old is done. Now commercial interests and political interests are new ways the web can be used to facilitate new campaigns and win new gains.

Complementing what Pariser says in his work, national walls are being built using the internet; for example, China has a firewall that imposes "tight controls on internet links with the rest of the world" so that traffic is highly regulated and monitored, and some services are simply not available (Economist, Feb 2010). In other countries similar problems present, as government's limit what people using the internet can see in their countries. This is akin to censoring in the extreme. This is somewhat like the personalization Pariser talks about in the first part of his book, but it is taken to an extreme level, it goes further than simply personalizing the internet, it simply limits the internet, making personalization extreme to the point where people have no choice in changing their links up at all. Companies are also controlling what people see by closing out what people can have, by creating for example, internal e-mail systems. This is what Facebook did when they created their own e-mail system, and when certain companies create proprietary web-based services and software applications that…[continue]

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