Shruti's Reviews > The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You

The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser
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's review
Jul 02, 11

Read from June 17 to July 02, 2011

Within this critique on Internet administrative and operational policies and the colonies of power, control, and everyday experiences forthcoming with the rise of ubiquitous computing, we tread a neat idea-logue: of anecdotes, opinions, and ‘what ifs’ associated with the collection, aggregation, use, reporting, and privatization of consumer data. Frankly, it’s amazing how covertly and swiftly prominent Internet ‘gamers’ such as Facebook and Google (Pariser’s key instructive examples) can, do, and plan to, cross-match user data across Web and mobile platforms, electronic transactions (think credit cards, car rentals, airline bookings – anything that can link “you” to you), and reams of other categorically ‘transactional’ activities. Although the tone, style, and repetition of Pariser's concern with the (currently) opaque disclosure of the capture and use of consumer data for specific means – advertising, criminal profiling, dating, fill in the blank – are reminiscent at times of the drone/Big Brother/oblivion-ish fantasies seeded in the plotlines of books like Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and The Giver, Pariser nonetheless establishes a winning case for our immediate and long-term attention. His attitude remains rational, inclusive, and hardly controversial and outlandish.

The main act is the personalization of the Internet, and its consequences for how we experience the real world; as applications learn what interests us, they will (likely: collaboratively) filter ‘the world’ as everyone sees and comprehends it (even on the sensory level, if you believe it), to include only those news stories, product recommendations, consumer product sales, sounds (e.g., conversations versus car traffic when walking down a busy street), and so on, that are seemingly (most) relevant to (read: pleasant for) us – that is, the idea of 'us' inferable from our ongoing record of action online (and soon, Pariser predicts, as more dissimilar technologies converse, in every technological space). Not only: What kinds of movies do we rent? What articles do we read? What do we ‘Like’ on Facebook? Which products do we order from Amazon? But also (and this developing fact is, for me, slightly frightening and yet impressive): What time of day are those answers accurate? For what mood, geographical location, etc.? What fonts, web designs, online activity levels do we favor?

I appreciate the variety of industries that find their way into supporting the crux of each chapter’s momentum, and the quality of storytelling. Several companies and initiatives mentioned are worth researching and following. At its best, this book captures what increasingly is blueprinting the modern social information matrix: the social and ethical outcomes, attitudes, policies, and even lives that stem from data collection based on the individual. Historically and in contrast, group-based data have platformed our scientific, economic, and cultural knowledge and decisions.

As a side note, I wonder how the book might have turned with an altered content organization scheme. Though repetition proved undoubtedly effective for those like me with short, impervious memories, as well as for branding the stature and novelty of Pariser's findings and claims, this technique occasionally delivered at the expense of a tight narrative. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it would be useful to be able to contextualize and evaluate 'the personalization of data' themes with(in) a broader set of example-space beyond that enabled by Pariser's reliance on the industry giants, namely Facebook and Google. While we readers are able to get a sense of how pressing and pervasive the issue is given these two companies’ demographic, economic, ideological, and political reach, I imagine Pariser’s arguments would color our views and strategies differently within local businesses, start ups, open source environments, and the like – along with providing a more comprehensive juncture from which we can brainstorm tailored, pragmatic solutions that also account for the wider strategic and social reality.

Nonetheless great points on redlining, normative profiling, overdetermined usage patterns, etc; given our present technological capabilities and pace of development, the probability these can/will outweigh value-added activity monitoring; and feasible protocols for addressing nascent and probable unions of info mgt and personalization

A good bargain, at the least, for those seeking a fresh alternative to denser industrial reports on the subject (and arguably too many exist)

3.5 (When will Goodreads implement flexi-star capability?)

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