Monday, May 23, 2011

"When the Internet Thinks It Knows You"

In this opinion piece from the New York Times (May 22, 2011) is written by Eli Pariser, one of the founders of and current president of the board of Pariser expresses concern about the "Internet giants - Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft -" who are so good at mining our browsing habits to customize advertising to the reader.

It isn't the advertising practices of these giants that bother Pariser; its the search filtering. To Pariser, some of the democratization that the Internet has fostered is a risk.
[W]hen personalization affects not just what you buy but how you think, different issues arise. Democracy depends on the citizen’s ability to engage with multiple viewpoints; the Internet limits such engagement when it offers up only information that reflects your already established point of view. While it’s sometimes convenient to see only what you want to see, it’s critical at other times that you see things that you don’t.
Insofar as this is a threat (and I think it is), I would say that Facebook has the potential to do the most harm. Doesn't it seem likely that the more time a person spends living in Facebook-land, talking only to chosen friends, the more likely her or his worldview will narrow?

Parsier believes that companies that use this kind of technology should "give us control over what we see - making it clear when they are personalizing, and allowing us to shape and adjust our own filters."

Will they heed his call? I doubt it. Would it do any good if they did? Not much, I'd guess. Most people wouldn't take the time to shape their own filters. It's so easy and pleasant to let someone else filter for me and categorize my behaviors so I don't have to - it's like Shangri-La.

But I'd use the "search filter off" option sometimes.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

1 comment:

Leonard Ortmann said...

When I was a coach of an ethics bowl team, one of the ways we prepared was by attempting to anticipate possible future objections to one's point of view. The ability to actually hear an opponent's objection, instead of dismissing it or pigeon-holing it, and responding to it by creatively extending one's own perpsective, is a rare quality, but provides a benchmark of what a genuine education entails. It's much easier to repeat slogans, dismiss objections, defeat straw men, or either preach to the choir or hymn along with it.