I’ve been reading about this recently. And it has me more and more concerned. I read this New Scientist article just a couple of days ago.
Initially, I wasn’t concerned about my data being tracked. “I’ve got nothing to hide,” I thought. I was naive. It’s not about the information I give them, it’s about how they use that information to shape the information they give me.
When I first read that my Google results are different from someone else’s results for the exact same search I realized I’ve contributed to something that is going to get bad. It is worse than reading a conservative or a liberal publication. I can always choose a different publication if I want another perspective. But how do I get a different perspective if Google only gives me links to liberal points of view?
I want to propose an experiment. Here is a screenshot of my “abortion” search results. Link to your own screenshot and let’s compare.
Keep in mind, I scrolled down past the advertisements and the localized results, those are less critical differences. These are the first of the real results. What do yours look like?
Google has always ranked their results based on what other people click on. Now they are doing it based on what you click on. But what if I don’t really know what I am looking for? Filtered web content makes the web smaller, though. Rather than finding immediate access to an expansive world of information, we must first navigate out of an artificially limited local neighborhood of familiarity.
Anyway. Watch the video. If you don’t think it could ever effect the actual content of what is presented to us, like in EPIC, then check out this video of Google’s Living Stories experiment from about a year ago.
I am trying not to be reactionary about this. All this information does no good if I don’t have a plan to address it. Part of the plan is to spread awareness. Do not become lazy in your pursuit of information. That leads to the second part: make sure you seek information through multiple channels. That doesn’t just mean use different search engines, but seeking out channels that deliver diverse information and perspectives. Moreover, read everything with skepticism. If something doesn’t seem to add up, pursue it.
This whole idea of over-personalized web content is only a problem if we allow it to think for us.
Thanks to David Robertson here on WordPress for linking to the EPIC site.