Google and Facebook are two of many internet companies that try to extrapolate from what they know about individuals from their internet activities so as to personalise what they offer them in the way of information, news, advertisements and services. “The contextual advertisements Google places next to search results and on Web pages are its only significant source of profits. And while Facebook’s finances are private, insiders have made clear that advertising is at the core of the company’s revenue model.”
Personalisation is invisible to the internet user and the assumptions made about an individual are not known to them and so cannot be corrected or adjusted by them. At its most basic level, a user searching for hotels for a holiday in Dubai will be start to see advertisements for hotels in Dubai on other websites they visit. But “After you visit a page about Third World backpacking, an insurance company with access to your Web history might decide to increase your premium”.
The low cost of communicating on the internet means there is a huge amount of information available and it is impossible to attend to all of it. This makes offers of personalised information streams attractive, the screeds of information are filtered for you so that you only see what is relevant to you. However the price of this personalisation is that corporations get to know you rather intimately and they have their own agenda for that information. “If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”
“Parents who purchased EchoMetrix’s Sentry software to track their kids online were outraged when they found that the company was then selling their kids’ data to third-party marketing firms.”
Reference: Eli Pariser. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. New York: Penguin. 2011, p. 102.
Students who go to Ivy League colleges see targeted advertisements for jobs that students at state schools are never even aware of. The personal feeds of professional scientists might feature articles about contests that amateurs never become aware of. By illustrating some possibilities and blocking out others, the filter bubble has a hand in your decisions. And in turn, it shapes who you become.