What the Internet is Hiding from You

Thursday, June 02, 2011 board president Eli Pariser talks about the rise of personalization on the Web. Facebook, for example, prioritizes the links it believes will appeal to you so that if you are a liberal, you can expect to see only progressive links. Even The Washington Post devotes the top of its home page to a news feed with the links your Facebook friends are sharing. In The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You, Pariser uncovers how this growing trend threatens to control how we consume and share information as a society.


Eli Pariser

Comments [16]

Hal Morris from New Jersey

Pariser said something about the *possibility* that in a political contest, one side will be oblivious to cases being made against him/her. I think this is happening very extensively already; that is, huge amounts of misinformation that I and many others could refute in a few minutes goes out under the radar. Those with a motive to refute it have no idea it is being circulated.

I'm very aware of two distinct "channels" of such misinformation. One is the phoney "email from a friend of a friend", which I try to depict in all its glory in
(the most extensive collector of this sort of email is "").

The other channel is the 2nd or 3rd tier right wing blogs, which spread all kinds of utter nonsense that Rush Limbaugh and his ilk will not repeat because his fact checkers find out in a minute that it is nonsense, and he can't afford to deal so much in untrue specifics, but deals in spin, over the top characterizations and generalizations too complicated to argue about without writing a book (like "AGW is a hoax"). E.g. in early 2010, it was all over the more credulous RW blogs that a climatologist named Wolfgang Knorr had demonstrated there was no significant increase in the level of CO2 in the atmosphere in the past 150 years, and comment thread after comment thread on how this was the "last nail in the coffin" of the "AGW hoax". (See

The people exposed to this for whom it fit their prejudices probably mostly all believe it to this day because virtually nobody outside these frenzied conversations ever heard of it (I saw a few cases of someone explaining the definitional problem but they were heavily abused and called dupes of Al Gore and the like).

Jun. 02 2011 06:50 PM
sean from brooklyn

1. use for one of your search engines. it's private, and does not record your IP address.
2. 'Better Privacy' is a great addon in Firefox
3. also,
4. check out electronic frontier foundation for privacy download addons as well.
5. in your Tools setting, for your 'clear history', include everything. Better Privacy can be included for flash cookies in this for Firefox via the 2nd tab in it's own panel.

Jun. 02 2011 12:46 PM
Natascia from NYC

What about predictive text on cellphones?! I realize this is different than internet personalization but predictive text can write out an entire sentence based on what I've typed before. Maybe its not exactly what I want to say but if its there already it and I'm in a rush it makes sense to just use predicted text instead. Just another example of the influence/intrusion of technology on our behaviour.

Jun. 02 2011 12:42 PM

Not that this concept is exactly new, as HughSansom stated above, but the fact that the practice is becoming more widespread and more systematized is sickening. The problem with the lack of discourse that we see today, and also the lack of a certain amount of civility in our political discussions, is that we only access actively information that reinforces our beliefs. Now if you want to find out more information, seeking out ideas that may challenge what you believe, you have to dig even deeper.

Personalized searches may be great for purchasers and marketers, but detrimental for democracy and intellectual curiosity. Like superf88 above, I too have started using other search engines again and will make other changes to accessing the web in order to circumvent these marketing, personalizing practices.

Jun. 02 2011 12:37 PM
oscar from ny

facebook dosnt use html and its annoying

Jun. 02 2011 12:36 PM

How do attacks on Net Neutrality (abetted by Obama) affect this issue. Among other things, many internet access providers process URL requests. So if I enter, my access provider (Time Warner) will _not_ direct me to WNYC. It will say that it couldn't understand what I requested and offer search results, which will include WNYC, but also Time Warner crapware.

Jun. 02 2011 12:31 PM
CJ at Work from NYC

I just did a search for my business, to find out where on the page it comes up on Google. It was the first result. I went to another computer and it was on the 2nd page.

That's not helpful to me at all! I want to know where -others- find my business.

Jun. 02 2011 12:31 PM
Ken from Manhattan

Between what not only Google et al. are up to, but also the Messrs. Pariser, aren't we rapidly approaching an end-state in which everyone will be transparent to everyone else? What will life in such a situation be like? Will we amount to a cosmic brain?

Jun. 02 2011 12:29 PM

Do cookies stored on your computer influence the results you receive?

Jun. 02 2011 12:27 PM
crez from nj

What's incredible is how for decades the fear mantra was "big brother will be watching us". Now the population,including the boomers who feared BB the most,giddily and gladly hand a far more dangerous and bigger brother the keys to their whole life.Amazing..but not surprising.The internet is our portal to eventual hell!

Jun. 02 2011 12:25 PM
Phil Henshaw from way uptown

Eli, What about mankind's favorite "feel good" addiction, the investment bet you believe you are completely sure to win?

That is of course false, but we LOVE believing it to the point one finds that belief and the reinvestment of the winnings you get from sure bets, at the center of every kind of economic bubble. The love of sure bets that you can add your winnings to is so intoxicating, however, most people who understand it will still defend to the death anyone's right to get drunk on it.

We're about to destroy our civilization, it would appear, attempting to find anything believable enough to return ever multiplying bets.... like so many cratered bubble worlds in the past, and lots of people see it.

Where do we find people who think that game is rather old hat, really, boring to death in fact, to talk about the alternatives??

Jun. 02 2011 12:22 PM
robert from bay ridge

what deepweb is worth?

Jun. 02 2011 12:21 PM

Have things really changed all that much? Who can deny that The New York Times tailors its coverage to keep wealthy, largely white, Americans comfortable. The Times clearly omitted a huge array of information that demolished the case for war in Iraq. It did something very similar in its gross failure to report on the housing bubble and the crimes a Wall Street in any way that might have helped to avert the financial crisis.

The Times didn't need to mine any data on its audience. It reasonably and pretty accurately gauged the character of its desired audience and reported accordingly.

I understand that Pariser is making a somewhat different point, but the "tailored view of the world" is a feature of major news organizations, leading universities, 'think' tanks, etc.

Perhaps we should be more concerned about the systematic exclusion of some views (not surprisingly, given my bent, I have in mind Americans' near-universal exclusion of progressive views).

Jun. 02 2011 12:15 PM
tom from nyc

How do they know which person in a household is searching if we don't search from facebook or an e-mail account?

Jun. 02 2011 12:15 PM
esther from queens

This happened to me yesterday.I thought it was pretty scary:
As an Orthodox married woman, I cover my hair with what is called a "sheital" a yiddish term for wig. I had emailed a friend mentioning this word "sheital"and immediately I got ads in my Google gmail about wigs yet that word was not mentioned in the entire email string! WOW! Google even understands Yiddish!

Jun. 02 2011 12:13 PM

Last few months google and other sites have been filtering my results, even though I sign out of my account and clear my cookie files.

As a result I have revisited search agents I hadn't used in years. Google is too familiar with me and likewise.

What i find useful and exciting about the internet -- level playing field including informationally -- is exactly the opposite of what thrills google, facebook and other profit-seekers.

Jun. 02 2011 12:08 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.