How the net traps us all in our own little bubbles
An invisible revolution has taken place is the way we use the net, but the increasing personalisation of information by search engines such as Google threatens to limit our access to information and enclose us in a self-reinforcing world view, writes Eli Pariser in an extract from The Filter Bubble
A slide from Eli Pariser's TED Talk presentation which discusses how major internet players are tailoring information to individuals. Illustration: Justin Kemerling and Eli Pariser
Few people noticed the post that appeared on Google's corporate blog on 4 December 2009. It didn't beg attention – no sweeping pronouncements, no Silicon Valley hype, just a few paragraphs sandwiched between a round-up of top search terms and an update on Google's finance software.
Not everyone missed it. Search-engine blogger Danny Sullivan pores over the items on Google's blog, looking for clues about where the monolith is headed next, and to him, the post was a big deal. In fact, he wrote later that day, it was "the biggest change that has ever happened in search engines". For Danny, the headline said it all: "Personalised search for everyone".
Starting that morning, Google would use 57 signals – everything from where you were logging in from to what browser you were using to what you had searched for before – to make guesses about who you were and what kinds of sites you'd like. Even if you were logged out, it would customise its results, showing you the pages it predicted you were most likely to click on.
Most of us assume that when we google a term, we all see the same results – the ones that the company's famous Page Rank algorithm suggests are the most authoritative based on other pages' links. But since December 2009, this is no longer true. Now you get the result that Google's algorithm suggests is best for you in particular – and someone else may see something entirely different. In other words, there is no standard Google any more.