Eli Pariser

Author/Organizer, Author -- The Filter Bubble, Penguin Press, May 2011


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LIVE TED Conversation: Join TED Speaker Eli Pariser

LIVE conversation with Eli Pariser, TED Speaker and author of The Filter Bubble, a fascinating look at the effects of online personalization.

The conversation will open at 12 Noon (Eastern Standard Time), May 14, 2011 with the question:

What should companies like Facebook and Google prioritize besides "relevance"?

ADMIN EDIT: Eli has requested that we keep the conversation and discussion open past the 1 hour mark. He will be checking in periodically and answering questions, and is looking forward to continuing a great TED Conversation!

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    May 14 2011: Great conversation, everyone -- I've got to duck out, but I'll be back to check in. This is exactly what I was hoping my talk would do -- start a conversation about algorithmic ethics and filtering that could lead to more informed people and more diverse information streams. Thanks!

    Oh, and if you're interested, I've got a book on the topic out this week: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1594203008?ie=UTF8&ref_=sr_1_1&qid=1305382795&sr=8-1&linkCode=shr&camp=213733&creative=393181&tag=thefilbub-20

    Look forward to continuing the conversation.
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    May 14 2011: Eli - thanks for provoking thought.

    To what extent do you feel that this 'filter bubble' is a symptom of a larger problem in societal organization? I find that, even in the physical world, people tend to find information which aligns with their existing beliefs (psychologists call it 'confirmation bias').

    People hang out with similar friends, read sympathizing newspapers/websites, etc. Isn't this pattern in social media simply a result of product designers giving people what they already want? I feel like solving this problem may lie in changing our values more than redesigning technology. While a new algorithm will certainly help, it may just dissuade users from using facebook (as they don't WANT competing outlooks).

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      May 15 2011: Jay, the fact is as Marshall McLuhan reminded, values are something that are more often shaped by a media, rather than influenced by what we instil in it. This in part happens by way of intent and yet more often influenced by the dimensions it opens up.

      So for instance, on one hand it can have people more quickly informed about certain events, like say what happened in Egypt, where the media served as a rallying point for those who thought it was time to force change. On the other hand, because of the sheer volume of information things like our perceived levels of anxiety and fear gets raised over what they were in the past. This is because we are presented with more things to fear, yet unfortunately are still using personal filters which finds the input as local and immediate. So it’s not so much about our values needing to change, yet how we think about those things which have them to change.

      “All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values”
      - Marshall McLuhan

      “Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America--not on the battlefields of Vietnam.”
      - Marshall McLuhan

      “Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn't know the first thing about either.”
      - Marshall McLuhan

      “A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.”
      - Marshall McLuhan

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        May 16 2011: Phil:"However, there is a distinction to be made between what this is and the concern Eli Pariser is warning about, since censorship and persecution are there for all to see, while Pariser’s threat is hidden and therein subliminal."

        Phil, the point is to be aware of who can become the designers of the Hidden Filters. That is a global perspective of management of the internet.

        Yes Eli is talking about Google, Facebook, but I am making one aware if the potential is great, management of the internet and those who manage it, then you have to be aware that they too, are the Gate Keepers?

        That is my question, about what is hidden from perspective.

        Selectively this does not sit with the bubbles some are involvement in, yet remain unaware of the bubble they can become by being wrapped in the larger bubble of understanding called the internet.

        Again, I would point back to what I said about emergence and the algorithm, you being, and what is attached to all that you can and will become given the parameters of the internet and what it will allow?

        Phil:"However, it is also to ask, did you truly think that such a powerful media as this, was going to escape the same scrutiny, control and yes even manipulation that the others have faced throughout the ages;"

        You also missed the point about who owns the medium owns the message.:)The danger then are thus magnified by who owns the internet? Who owns it Phil?

        I am not unaware of the potentials realized that politically can be mastered by using the internet to advance social media to help people become aware? Imagine if one were to say that this is not right and so the political message I have is not appropriate according to the "Masters of the Internet?"

        Owning Broadcasting stations one can have a political bend too that allow the work of manipulation on it's readers. You have to be aware of that too.:)
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        May 16 2011: White Space is an important subject when it comes to frequencies and those who would design their own equipment. Copyleft on hardware development aside from the big telecoms?

        Richard Stallman had mention at a municipal level of possibly challenging creating the hardware. A choice other then, the big telecoms to me it seems the right thing to do for accessing knowledge without charge and discrimination.

        The Universal Library. They of Google might called Google books, but that has always been my point about access to information. Access to the Library.

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    May 14 2011: There’s not much more than can be said other than what Eli Pariser has warned about. The only thing I would add is much of the bad filtering is resultant due to the imprecision and/or laziness of the inquisitor. So for instance, when Eli talks about the different results each of his friends who queried “Egypt” I’m not so surprised by the result. That is Google does give one a scrolled list of options when you first start to enter a query, with mine listing as Egypt news, Egypt, Egypt protest, Egypt crisis, Egypt gods and Egypt riots. Further one can refine the results, either by stating it more clearly what you are looking for, or proceed with an advanced search, which can narrow it further including being able to use Boolean logical operators.

    This is just to point out, that what one gets is not simply dependant upon the intentions of others, yet also the actions of our own; with anold computer analogy for this being “garbage in garbage out”. So it comes down to what Marshall McLuhan reminded that all media does is create a space of possibilities which never existed before and it’s up to each of us as to how it will be utilized; that is both collectively and individually.

    “a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence”

    -Marshall McLuhan,”Understanding media: the extensions of man” (page 6)
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      May 16 2011: The Question is who has become the gatekeeper if Government has extended it's reach into the issue that I linked with regard to Michael Geist. Could not comment to your above statement so I had to do it here.

      "To be clear: I do not believe that the Harper government is plotting to criminalize the Internet itself. Hey, Lawful Access started as Liberal legislaion! But whoever wrote it, it’s a terrible and stupid piece of law, and one that would never have survived committee in one piece. But Stephen Harper has promised to ram this stuff through, and now he has the majority to do it. See: Will anonymity and hyperlinks be illegal in Canada?"-

      In essence by definition then, is government considered a Gatekeeper?


      If you had been following Usage Based Billing issue being the wish of big telecom, , then who has become the Gate Keeper? The CRTC is the decision maker yet a large opposition by the people have made it clear they do not want UBB.
  • May 14 2011: One has to admit that such filtering does make things more convenient for the individual. Surely as much as these companies have the responsibility to not over-filter what we see online, it is also up to us to perhaps sidestep these filters and explore beyond what is conveniently placed in front of us. Personally, I believe we can't depend on these businesses to help us out of ignorance! Raising awareness that what Google and Facebook show us isn't all there is to the world and letting people decide if they want to get out of their own filter bubble might just work better than persuading companies to think of the greater good. And your talk served just that purpose, if only for me! :)
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      May 14 2011: Thanks! Yeah, I agree -- it takes two to tango here, and our desire for personalized tools is part of the problem. It just worries me that most people don't see this happening at all -- at least when you go to FOX or MSNBC, you know what's being left out.
      • May 14 2011: So do you reckon the priority is to make these internet companies more humane, so to speak, or focus on getting the masses to understand the possible problems of using these services?
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          May 14 2011: Well, I think the two go together. If consumers change what they're looking for in an information service, the companies will have more pressure to respond. And meanwhile, I think it's possible to directly call on these companies to pay more attention to this -- a lot of people who work there really *want* to be doing good, and if enough of us call them to step it up, I think they will.
  • May 19 2011: Another case of "The road to hell is paved with good intentions"? I personally encountered automated filtering very recently when I moved - and was practically unable to find a shop from my old neigbourhood in Google.

    I would be personally very interested in a follow up activity. As a start: A Google co-founder is a member of the TED Brain Trust - shouldn't it be possible to convey an "idea worth thinking about" from this TED conversation directly? Google's credibility was build on making transparent the difference between search results and sponsored ads. So in a way the automated filtering leads Google away from its own core principle - why wouldn't a company understand the risk of that? Two obvious points:
    1) If you filter, make it transparent ("this search has been filtered and personalized be be more relevant for you")
    2) Give the user the option to shut off ALL filters

    Beyond that, an automated algorithm requires strong assumptions about what increasing the relevance of information. But only some users will end up in a happy pink bubble - for others the cage is both visible and annoying. So why not offer users the chance to influence the filters (and not with useless advanced search options for language and region)?

    For this suggestion, a very relevant concept to consider is the diverse roles we play in life - which change even within one day. No computer-based algorithm will ever detect on its own that five minutes ago I was looking up "Egypt" to book a business trip, but that I am now on my lunch break and want an update on the political situation.

    Filters that might be helpful if they are both visible and user controlled might include "I need..."
    - Background information
    - Shopping options
    - local answers
    - ....

    Advocating a "morally correctly biased" filter is just another form of censorship. But transparent, user-driven filtering might even make us a bit more aware of our choices and the hidden algorithms of our brain.
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    May 16 2011: Dear Eli

    I enjoyed your talk very much. It made me think that keeping this channel as objective as possible, is partly our responsibility. This starts with the user being aware of the aspects of personalization (a useful tool) that compromise the objectivity of the information fed into our searches. When we are conscious of these issues, you have a greater control on how we conduct our searches and respond to the information we receive.

    I would like to see Google (and other search engines) give us the option to enter this criteria at the moment we conduct the search. This way we can make sure that we will receive the type of information we are looking for in that determined moment.

    Yours truly
  • May 14 2011: Eli - I deeply appreciate your commentary at the end of your presentation regarding the internet being a place to connect to other thoughts, perspectives and ideas from around the world. When I first logged on, I remember feeling like an astronaut exploring the vast human knowledge base. Nowadays, I primarily get advertising for cars and an exploration of things all too mundane and familiar.

    To return to that sense of exploration, I believe the most important factor would be, as you stated plainly, to have transparency in the filtration process. Filters, in and of themselves, aren't bad - but merely tools to get product messages across to potential customers.

    In the real world, when I go shopping for something, I filter using an active process in my mind based on mood, temperament, budget, etc. I think the web would benefit from having filters that you click and un-click, similar to how you can manage what netflix is showing you. That way, if you were in the mood to explore outside your bubble, you could easily do so & if you just need to buy your car, you'd be able to do so immediately.

    In terms of other factors to filter for - significance (as defined by physical, biological, social, ecological impact of a large scale), innovation (cancer cures, scientific breakthroughs, & business), international relevance (to help generate a global citizenship) & domestic relevance (to help build a sense of community). These are only my thoughts and suggestions - and I don't know that I wouldn't reorder the importance at some different moment in my life.
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    May 14 2011: One thing that could be done to curb this as a user is by conducting some searches or choosing results of searches that are far out of the norm. This could expand the scope of the parameters although it may be treating the symptom so to speak.

    Also an interesting result of these filter bubbles is being able to identify the new 'borderless countries' that are forming.
  • May 14 2011: i dont think its so much that there are these algorithms that are the problem its that they are invisible and un adaptable as a user, if google simply had a settings column running down the side of their main page showing what information they are using to find the answers your looking for then this problem would basically be a moot point at least with search engines
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    May 14 2011: Several weeks ago on my Tumblr, I saw a post comparing the popularity of two tags on the site: #Libya and #LOL. The bars representing the posting rates were significantly in favor of #LOL. This occurred only a short while after the uprising and civil war were all over the news. However, even after such a major event, people quickly returned to their entertainment.

    I would like to present the idea that filter bubbles are not significantly at fault for the cultural 'sweet tooth' that is sweeping the internet. Rather, this is a culture that thrives on entertainment and immediate gratification moreso than it does on serious contemplation. The filter bubbles are simply taking advantage of such to please the public.
    In the lecture, you said that the filters also needed to show information that was "important, uncomfortable, challenging, and from other points of view". I completely agree. However, this type of information is what people -need-, not what people -want-. The up-and-coming generation craves immediate information because it's what we've been brought up on. True nutrition for the mind won't sell as well.

    I really enjoyed your presentation, Mr. Pariser. The world needs more people like you.
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      May 14 2011: Thanks for the kind words. I'm slightly more hopeful -- I think our long-term, aspirational selves are as aspirational as ever about being well-read, thoughtful citizens of the world. It's just that the Internet's making it easier than ever to indulge our short-term selves. The long-term ones need some help fighting the battle.
  • May 14 2011: I just wanted the TED presentation - excellent job! You made a very clear request to the companies. What response have you received from Google, FB, HuffPost, WashPost, etc to address the filter bubble you identified?
  • May 14 2011: I call the varying, information overflow myself and agree it doesn't hurt at all to seek out more information. I will visit sites and sign up for sites with opposite views of no relevance to me all the time. It is always good to know others opinions a look at the varying views...For the average person to keep up with everything to protect personal data is insane in the information overflow era. I think it is up to the people, companies and government to implement a long term plan on doing this. How to make it beneficial to companies and government is the big question. It can be expensive and lose benefits to both of them....
  • May 14 2011: The problem with personalization is that it is not discovery oriented. It assumes that people want what they have already discovered, things that are similar to what they already know or feel comfortable with. It does not encourage growth or experimentation. It may be in the short term that people do buy what they are being presented with, but eventually the thrill will wear off and they will be out looking for the unexpected, that which makes us feel alive. So, what is happening is that through much of this technology is that our interests and therefore purchases and experiences are narrowing. And that ultimately reduces our tolerance for others, so on a social level it could be (and often is) a negative thing encouraging tribal thinking.
  • May 14 2011: Does Google apply the filter if I don't sign in? Is there a way to be anonymous so that the bubble or filter does not kick in? Or is it all tracked by IP address or something like that?
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      May 14 2011: Google has two levels of personalization -- one based on your web history and login information, and one based on the 57-or-so signals I mentioned in my talk that are available even if you're NOT logged in. Those include what kind of computer you're on, what browser you use, and your IP.

      You can turn off the first level, but you can't turn off the second -- to some degree, wherever you are, Google will be personalized for you.
      • May 14 2011: Does this mean, then, that Google is assuming things about certain types of users? As in, if I use a Mac, I'm more likely to think X way than someone using a PC? Or if I use Firefox I'll have different needs/interests/beliefs than someone using IE or Chrome? If I'm in Brooklyn I'll have different political views than someone in Detroit... etc?
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    May 14 2011: Hi everybody -- I'm on, and looking forward to your questions/thoughts/provocations/critiques. Bombs away!
  • May 14 2011: I am curious as to whether there's anything we can do about the "filter bubble" as individuals. Can we take back control over our own information and what we are able to access?
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      May 14 2011: Hi Noelle --

      As far as turning off personalization goes, I've compiled some of the easiest ways here:

      The challenge is, right now the people who are pushing automatic, invisible personalization have far better technology than the people trying to give consumers control of it. So, for example, even if you turn all of your cookies off and surf anonymously, it's still possible to track you by signals your individual computer gives off. And it's totally possible that sites like Google use those signals to adjust what you see.

      That's why I think the long-term solution requires action from these companies themselves, and possibly from the government.

      The other thing you can do, though, is vary your information routine. You'll never go wrong seeking out more diverse and challenging viewpoints.

      • May 14 2011: Haha I like the idea of looking up random things just to confuse my search engines. Sounds like a fun challenge. Thanks! :)
      • May 14 2011: My concern at this moment is how the "signals" coming from my computer are being interpreted. I live in a not-so-great neighborhood and use an outdated computer. Does that mean that I am going to be filtered differently than those in a higher tax bracket? The subtle implications of that are prety scary. If I do turn off my personalization filter then what assumptions are being made about me?
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          May 14 2011: Eli meant that even if you're using sites like Google/Bing from highest anonymity a user can achieve they can still match you ip/mac address, browser with your activities and will still provide you with some kind of, although small scale, personalization by putting up metrics of your location (ip/mac combination) and your surfing habit.

          Although, if you're already logged in, like checking gmail or posting on facebook, anonymity drops substantially, almost to zero, and then you'll get what >they< think is most relevant to you.

          Btw, living in no-so-great neighborhood may have some effect, but not 'outdated computer' as they can only see your browser, operating system, ip/mac address and bandwidth (not the hardware in majority of cases, unless you installed something).
      • May 14 2011: Whoa... Eli in response to you saying:

        "That's why I think the long-term solution requires action from these companies themselves, and possibly from the government. "

        Hold on there... really think about what you're saying. In your video you cited "what the internet originally meant to you" as a place of equality, people having a voice, etc. Seeing something that you think needs to be solved, and hoping that the GOVT comes in to solve it is exactly the antithesis of the open spirit you do indeed yearn for.

        The answer is, in fact, in the hands of we the people. There are ways to use these algorithms in our favor, to aid us in expanding our horizons. Remember, Google is NOT the government. We DO in fact have the ability to respond to fix our own, personal situations.

        Lobbying, petitioning, etc, is the wrong solution in this case.
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        May 15 2011: Canadian government plans to outlaw internet linking
        Bill C-51: Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act
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          May 15 2011: Plato, you speak of laws of government as suggesting them being the gatekeepers we should be more wary of as to what gets in and what does not. However, this is not a new concern, for as soon as someone made a painting on a cave wall, the tribe could decide to have it erased or the artist persecuted for drawing it. This then is not a problem relevant to the form of the media yet as always for those who would have it serve them.

          That is there is a distinct difference between persecution or book burning and the filters which Eli warns about, as the former being there for all to see, while the latter lay hidden and subliminal. I would say we have means to deal with your concerns (constitutions, supreme courts, etc.) and yet none for those which are Eli’s. So the bottom-line being is to recognize as the media changes we must adapt to those changes and to help guide us we need new prophets, with Eli Pariser being just one of the newest of many.

          "The medium, or process, of our time - electric technology is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing: you, your family, your education, your neighborhood, your job, your government, your relation to "the others. And they're changing dramatically."

          -Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is The Massage (1967)
  • May 20 2011: well they should make it clear to all of there software users that they are doing the "filter bubble" effect that they are using
    and to let the users the freedom to turn it off when thy want.
    because i really want to cancel this effect.
    thank you
  • May 18 2011: I suppose the good news is that, with the currently existing online filters, random information is filtered based upon my current lifestyle, demographics, etc.

    It’s not perfect, but at least with the internet, if I force the search parameters, I can access any information on any subject out there. By continuously forcing the search parameters I will ultimately shift my filter profile to provide me with information that is more relevant to my needs, regardless of what my demographic profile might indicate.

    I did become concerned when he brought up newspapers as a model to shaping internet filters in the future. Newspapers currently reflect the bias of the individual reporters, their editors and, ultimately, the owners of the paper who recruit, hire and fire these individuals. Whether they are writing an opinion piece on global warming or reporting a liquor store holdup, the writer inevitably inserts their bias into to the story.

    The internet is the last place where people can go and dig up facts on issues in order to become fully informed. If you search for enough sources on any topic on the internet, you can eventually get to the real issues in order to make a decision.

    Eli ‘s opinion is that the current algorithmic filters in place on the internet have some folks getting only information ‘junk food’.

    In his opinion.

    Eli thinks that the filters should be modified so that folks get a balanced diet of socially relevant information. Who determines what’s socially relevant? Eli Pariser? Barack Obama? George W. Bush?

    I always get concerned whenever I hear someone pontificating on what’s best of anything for anyone. I know what’s best for me and I defer to Eli to determine what’s best for him. While his motives are admirable, if we let individuals begin to determine what information the rest of can access, the law of unintended consequences will reign supreme and, ultimately, the internet will end up like every other form
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    May 16 2011: Can we start (or has there been started) a petition to get this done? I would like my facebook and my google settings to include the checkbox preferences that you included in your presentation. Let me know if there already is one, so that I can sign it and promote it! Thanks. (I was thinking of a site like change.org or avaaz.org) - maybe someone could throw your presentation into a 1:30 info-graphic/kinetic text video, so that we can get it going (I would love to do it if you can send me those sweet graphics you used!) - I have a feeling many millennials, Gen Xers, and Boomers out there will get behind this movement!
  • May 16 2011: Hi Eli. I enjoyed your TED talk. My comment is about crystallization of diverse perspectives as a complement to local filtering:

    I think you presented some very important observations. I do not, however, completely agree with your conclusions. I believe another exigency for personal development and social responsibility is that the current universe of information filtering makes it more important than ever that one seek a diversity of perspectives, embrace the tension that such diversity often brings, strive for balance of critically-resilient perspectives, and crystallize these different perspectives into a more complete understand of our local engagements with the world in which we live. In other words, as long as we compare our own learning (e.g., filtered by various web-based sources of information) with that of other people who we know to be different, we will be just fine. In fact, we will thrive.

    Consider, for example, what you did when you asked your friends to do the same Google search? It certainly helped you discover and demonstrate how local (person specific) the filtering is and how different the results can be. I wonder if it also is the case that the two sets of search results together provide some insight that is greater than the sum of the two parts. Does it, for example, reveal to a person in one locality (particular collection of interests, not just local geography) how a person in another locality might view an event of common interest? Even if this is just a hypothesis (and if only constructed by a computer), isn't this interesting in its own right? If so, perhaps we should emphasize the importance of connecting diverse localities and coming to understand the differences in perspective as much as coming to understand how computers or advertisers think about our demographic.

    I think the world is much more interesting if viewed multi-locally (i.e., as diverse) instead of globally (i.e., as potentially flat or homogeneous). What do you think?
    • May 16 2011: I don't agree in the least with invisible filters, the internet is my free zone from corporate interest dictating "what" I want to see. If I want these filters, it should be my choice and I should indicate my preference. Neither Google, Yahoo, or Facebook know why, or what I am thinking about the search I am doing. I wear many hats and sometimes my searches are relate to work,business, being a parent my own interest,etc. I am a complex human being and what I do is not clear cut. So for Facebook or Google to even understand my "internet Brain" is a task my husband has not been able to conquer in years. Filters are great tools in "my" hands. Facebook and Google are too "big" for me to trust. They have many other interest $$$ pulling at the them. My internet searches should be determined by me, and if filters are the new thing, Google, Facebook and Yahoo can do what they do best, build fantastic filter for the user. I do not believe we need to pave the way for corporate control of what we are exposed to on the internet. So far, special interest with deep pockets have inched themselves into the internet invading the free zone. I have notice that advertisement and commercials have triple in the past two years. So no thank you, I don't need Google or Facebook to control content, because as I see it, they have become a "BIG" corporation catering to special interest worldwide, not just in the United states. I also think 20 years ahead, and think, what would I want for my Grandchildren when they log into the internet. What we accept silently today, might be what we fight against in congress tomorrow.
  • May 16 2011: Information should be free. That is why libraries, in the Age of Google, are so very precious.
  • May 15 2011: The transparency of filters and recommendations is always a challenge. However, would you, Eli at al., agree with a simple and pragmatic solutions allowing the user to be made aware of a filter when applied with the option to switch it on/off to get either the personalised results or the unbiased neutral version - if there is such a thing at all?
    YES / NO / MAYBE

    As a product designer, I am currently working on a discovery solution myself and my point of view is that most content portals unfortunately do not offer any filters to personalise the service which results quite often in an information overload and the knowledge you are looking for and relevant to you as an individual lost in the noise of streaming and dynamically changing content.
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    May 15 2011: Who are the Gate Keepers?

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    May 15 2011: Hi Eli !

    Thanks for a very informative talk on TED and also for your participation in the political game here in USA that so greatly effects so many people around the globe and here at home. Regarding Facebook and Google responsibility to the public it can only be held in place by us the users of their systems. Of course it would be great if they kept us all informed of what they do and when, being Swedish and growing up with a strong consumer protection on everything given away or sold in the country helps everyone in the end. I think all of us living here in the US most get more active in citizenship and participation of "The American Dream" before it's all gone. So great to see a young guys like yourself taken a lead in the game of life. Best of luck and I will follow you here and on Facebook

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    May 14 2011: I may be a little off on the specifics of this, but I think that, over time, "relevance" indicators will hopefully evolve to take into account more granular data. For example, HTML5 enables more possibilities for algorithmically tracking sub-elements in html pages (yes, I know there are privacy issues to consider here...). If those sub-elements are better tracked, it can improve the overall heuristic that informs what pages "get it" to your information bubble. That said, it seems that there could also be better ways to allow the user to pro-actively inform the filters via a new web based framework/standards that currently do not exist. For example, there should be a better way for users to give feedback about the link relevancy of certain elements of a page rather than the page as a whole. If HTML allowed this, it would be nice the "like" a single sentence of a page rather than a whole article, etc, and then have the like weighted based on some standard. Alas we're not quite there yet where HTML/HTTP standards and ontology are concerned.
  • May 14 2011: What should companies like Facebook and Google prioritize besides "relevance"?

    They should embrace the spirit of open source :-) and open service.
  • May 14 2011: I like the question (tough and interesting) and your talk.

    My answer is... it depends. It depends on what the subject matter being searched for is. For many topics, the answer most relevant to the user *should* be on top. For example, if I do a lot of searches regarding programming languages, searching for "lisp" should probably show me results regarding Lisp, the computer language, whereas if I were a speech pathologist, I would expect my results to relate to speech.

    That said, there are questions/queries that don't have clear-cut answers, or more importantly, they have conflicting answers. Primarily, I believe the two main topics in this regard are politics and religions (and related topics such as morality, ethical conduct, evolution vs creationism, etc.).

    For such searches, the order of the results should still be relevant to the user, however, in addition to the regular results, there should be a results area which directly lists opposing/conflicting/alternative beliefs and viewpoints on the same topic. Impartial/multi-source information (like Wikipedia), should also be prioritized regardless of the user's viewpoint, so that such a source is always on the first page of results (preferably in the top 3) when available. In theory, even if a Wikipedia article is inaccurate/biased, it would evolve and be corrected over time, unlike the vast majority of articles and blog posts on the internet.
  • May 14 2011: According to self-identity theory, a person is a combination of an individual-self and a collective-self. The entire western world is moving towards an individualization of self. Young adults move out of their parents home, not because of lack of space but a desire to be on his/her own. There is an increasing number of pets as company instead of another human being. Maintainence of collective-self of persons remained a duty of the government and larger organizations. These were examples in the material world. Whereas, in your argument, the virtual world of information is isolating individuals in their own buble.

    First, the development of the internet is following the pattern of the western development. Second, even theoretically, one individual cannot be virtually present in many communities. For instance, if I got newsfeed of Afghanistan/Pakistan, Egypt, Japan Nuclear Crisis, NASA discoveries, Euro football championship, NBA matches, Cricket matches of Australia and West Indies, Russian spy involvment in Georgia, Chinese growth, etc., what could I make out of them?

    I don't want to be locked in a room, but I don't want to be thrown in the space too.
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    May 14 2011: Great Talk!

    I just wrote a paper on interactive communal digital displays and mentioned "Fliter Bubbles."
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    May 14 2011: I have seen an example of filter-bubble in Sweden and that few know of those. A blogger who belives google shows search the same for all, which is not true all google search and draws conclusion based on these filtered results. For bad and worse..

    In essence since all these databases contain personal information and there should exist a way to search to those data yet in a filtered (eg. google, since the page rank is already that) but in understandable, transparent, consistent and repetitive filtered way. Whom ever the user is, or browser, or location ...the user uses.

    Facebook should make it possible to reset the filter for news or make some user adaptable parameters and also make the users aware of how it actually works.
  • May 14 2011: "So, let me re-pose the question we started with: If algorithms are going to rule the online world, what should they prioritize besides "personal relevance"? And in what order?"

    1. Choice (Variety of choices and opinion selected by the user.
    2.Categorizing of the elements (also giving the user the option to categorize the different elements, such as "personal relevance" in different orders and choices at any time.)
    3. Personalization
    4. Social
    5. Political
    6. Randomization

    Don't blend in advertising media sources. placing personal ads directed toward me when I choose a personal relevance is fine. However, don't intermix and confuse me with what is advertising and what is opinion or fact. Maybe going off too far here from the base.
  • May 14 2011: i couldnt reply again..

    Are we missing the point castells made about individuals aligning themselves to networks? the algorithm or filter bubble is not even on a persons mind when they look for networks, they are spurred on by what they know to be true in there own everyday. Most people know their data is being collected and used against them, but what most people don't know is WHY?.. should we then demand that all our info is made secret, or made public.. if we hide it- its going to be stolen, and if we allow everyone to see it then we will feel at risk. its a vicious circle imo. And then there is Power, but that's a whole other debate. Tim Woo has said some interesting things on this (though i dont agree with most he says)
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    May 14 2011: I was wondering if you could please post/send a link to a list of the 57 signals that Google uses to decide what information to give you?
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      May 14 2011: That was from a Google engineer, but I don't have the individual list. It probably includes what browser you're using, a bunch of your browser settings, what computer you're on, what IP you're visiting from...
  • May 14 2011: If you use Google Chrome and select an Incognito Window when doing a search, you should see results that are not personalized.
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      May 14 2011: That's only partly true, Angela -- Google personalizes based on a number of factors even if you're logged out. To try it out: search for "pizza." Local pizza places will come up even in incognito.
      • May 14 2011: Yes, but you can also change your location. :) The rest of the results look generic. Funny though, google has my location auto-detected incorrectly. And wonder why TED "required" my zip code to be able to post this comment. Hmm. :-)
    • May 14 2011: The bigger threat is not from User based filter information how can commercial ,Political & other biasing based filters be detected & stoped. woudent it be better if these search providers only had indexed data bases and like explorer or other application user could search for the information required.
  • May 14 2011: Filtering has taken place always - news outlets have done this all along, for example. We tend to go to the news outlet that closely matches our believes and choices. Very rarely does a Democrat watch FOX News (unless Obama is being interviewed on it). I don't think that democracy has suffered as a result. Similarly, publishers and editors do a lot of filtering on our behalf and we seem to be OK with it. A personalized filter basically does the job of your favorite TV station or the publisher. If you are a person who looks for very specific things all the time, the filter hopefully learns and acts accordingly. And if you are a dabbler and discoverer, this is likely to be learned by an intelligent filter and results are presented accordingly. So, I believe that personal filter itself is a great idea - as to how intelligent it is makes all the difference. Providing an easy way to turn this off will solve the problem for those who want it that way. I do not see how personalized filters are anti-democratic.
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      May 14 2011: A couple of thoughts:

      I do think it's a problem for people to hear only their own political views -- and I say that as a former political organizer. Democracy requires discourse, and discourse requires at least a basic shared narrative or set of facts.

      This is exacerbated when the filtering is invisible. It's one thing to know you're turning on FOX and understand that you're not likely to see much good news about Obama. It's another to Google "Obama" and have "no birth certificate" come up, and not have any sense that that's a personally tailored result.
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      May 14 2011: One more thought: At the beginning Internet was not filtered. Right now companies try to make Internet operate like classical media. Classical media should continue to exist, but we also should not lose our unfiltered Internet.
  • May 14 2011: Eli Sometimes apart from Users Personalized filters there is commercial interest or clients of service providers who decide upon these filters & also subject priority.
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    May 14 2011: So, another question: what was the part of the talk that you had the most problems with? Or disagreed with?
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    May 14 2011: So, let me re-pose the question we started with: If algorithms are going to rule the online world, what should they prioritize besides "personal relevance"? And in what order?
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      May 14 2011: It's a tougher question than it seems at first glance. My knee-jerk answer is 'social relevance' prioritized first, but if an algorithm is deciding the relevance, we're still at the mercy of curated information much like the newspapers of old.

      As you said before, the scary part is not knowing what we're not seeing.
      • May 14 2011: I think you misunderstand how personalization works. It doesn't filter anything out, it simply reranks results so the order you see may be different than what someone else sees. Also, it does this only for queries where there is large click entropy, meaning there is a large variation in what people choose to click.

        Eli - can't seem to reply to a 3rd nested post, so will put my reply in here. Click entropy is simply a measure of ambiguity in a query. So if for a given query there are 10 clicks and each click went to a different url, then that query has maximum click entropy. Conversely, if all 10 clicks wen to the same url, that query has minimum click entropy. There is no need, or reason to personalize the latter, however the former may benefit from personalization.

        You're right, most people click on the top 3 links, but only if they find what they're looking for. If not then they'll either scan further in the results, or refine their query, or give up. The individual that is truly interested in discovering something new is still able to, and the masses that aren't, well they never were.
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          May 14 2011: Leo, Would be interested to hear more about the "click entropy" piece -- how is that calculated?

          My understanding is that something like 90% of people click on the first three links. So while it's technically available if the first link for one person is #20 for someone else, it's effectively filtered out for most people.
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      May 14 2011: Eli, for me it relates back to my comment as having the first and most important thing being education. That is first to learn how to properly search, next how to discern between information and misinformation and to increase the level of unfiltered person to person communication between the people it serves. But most of all, people must begin to see knowledge as being rooted in concepts, rather than information. I recall Ray Bradbury’s complaint regarding such when he said:

      "I see 'Fahrenheit' all over the place, these days," Bradbury said. "Programs like 'Jeopardy' and 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' are ridiculous. They're the stupidest shows in history. They're making us dumber. They don't give us information, they give us facts, factoids. You don't learn who Napoleon was and how he was motivated. You learn what year he was born, and when he died. That's useless."

    • May 14 2011: I believe that the first position should be reserved for breaking news that is of immediate relevance. If I google Houston, TX, for example, and a serious news event is in progress, that should obviously come up before a link to Priceline. I also think that public service announcements, such as Amber Alerts should always be a high priority and high up on the page.

      I think that the point is not just what people are searching for but what they are made aware of in the process. I am in agrreement that one of the top three or four links should be based on education.

      For example, if I decided to google something non-specific like, "Houston" I may get something like this:
      1. Amber Alert for 8 year old in Houston
      2. President Obama to speak today at Rice University
      3. Facts about Houston

      Then from there I can get my Priceline link to fly to Houston or someone can try to sell me something. We are a culture of web surfers. If we see the most culturally relevant and news worthy storties first, the ones that connect us instead of divide us, we will be more likely to follow those threads.
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        May 14 2011: Frankly, I do see a point in your argument but still disagree in an approval way.

        For me, and most of individuals I have contact with, if I search for Houston, I'm searching for the place or nasa or some person. I don't see putting an amber alert or president's schedule around it quite helpful.

        if, i would be in need for any news, first two points you made are news, I would go to news section of search engine. Although, placing quick links, like google does very intelligently, relevant to my location, time and previous searches would be helpful.

        I must say, the putting an option to OPT OUT of personalized, individual and mass altogether, results would make it more reliable.
    • May 14 2011: Not sure actually because your question suggests that some kind of automatically generated objectivity criteria should become part of the Google and Facebook empire ... but why actually? It is not like that the rest of the world suddenly disappears. But let's take your question serious. How would you design an environment which would be historically correct, politically fair, objective and neutral? And should government make recommendations or legislative proposals to achieve this? Actually there is a discussion about Internet Principles between the EU and US within the framework of the Transatlantic Economic Council going on. Maybe this would be the right environment to start with?
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      May 14 2011: If there should be algorithms or not and in what order doesn’t address all of the concerns such a change in media presents. That is there are distinctions to be made between the different access portals or venues if you prefer. As an example with Google being primarily concerned with information, tailored to search criteria, which is for the greatest part, although extractive it is not interactive. On the other hand we have Facebook, being a virtual social network environment, where information comes mainly only as a by-product, rather than being its goal, with interaction found as the principle driver. For me they form together what decision making is as it relates to information; with Google representing the objective component, while Facebook the subjective one.

      In such regard I think it wise that each be excluded (ownership) to entering the others domain, so to speak. That is since I feel the objective and subjective sources need to act as separate influences and not distorted as to have one act for the other in terms of manipulating consensus. This could represent to be the difference between evaluating things by metrics as opposed to by way of their quality; and therein often finding when the two reinforce independently of one another we more often have arrived at the truth. So while having better algorithms for the objective component may be able to have things improve, when it comes to the subjective they should be used sparingly and always being openly subject to the scrutiny of its users. This of course is not a new insight, yet something that’s been offered by many throughout the ages.

      “ I think that it will be found that a formal acknowledgment of the role of Quality in the scientific process doesn't destroy the empirical vision at all. It expands it, strengthens it and brings it far closer to actual scientific practice.”
      -Robert M. Pirsig- “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”
  • May 14 2011: What type of an impact do you think the filter bubble will have on the current generation of preteens and teens as they engage with the web?
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      May 14 2011: Well, at the worst, they'll grow up in a self-centered world. And they'll miss a lot of the important, challenging, and at times ugly things that people need to know about but are unlikely to click on. Worst-case, they grow up to be great consumers and really poor citizens.
      • May 14 2011: Well stated Eli! Exactly the problem. So, what do you propose? That we teach kids how to search, give them greater intellectual hunger and show them the tools to fish for the stuff that will not be proposed to them in this Google FB filtered world?
  • May 14 2011: so eli, i understand part of your concern is that with google and facebook having so much control no one is going to want to leave even if there is a better more anonymous service, i dont believe this is true just look at how fast people switch between internet browsers, if a company really wants to compete grabbing ones info off of a very unsecured service like facebook could be done. on the internet you have 3minutes of fame
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      May 14 2011: Go for it! :-) I tend to think that if there was an easy way to get some of Facebook or Google's billions, someone would have
  • May 14 2011: Is facebook comparable to google? a fake network that reproduces the same real life links is what?.. some say its a community in its self, i have to disagree , its a network of communities , like what a town centre is the the people who frequent it, all from separate communities but in a shared space.. usually communities are formed over time. Communities are never thrust upon the people,and with the sole intention to target ads and identify trends kinda takes away the 'community'.. while google on the other hand is more like a bus on which i travel to real digital global communities that are made up from all walks of life and not just the ones in my real life network..
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      May 14 2011: Facebook is like a real-life community in a lot of respects. As my research assistant Sam Novey points out here (http://www.thefilterbubble.com/counterweigh), more and more like real communities all the time because real-life communities are getting more homogeneous.

      But it's not in the sense that a) you choose who's in and who's out to start -- it's as if you could "hide" the homeless person who bugs you on the way to work, and b) Facebook applies an additional layer of filtering. So, even if you'd want to bump into a conservative friend, you might not.
      • May 14 2011: Thanks for your response Eli, much appreciated.

        Though i do think WE (gen) are allowing our selves to use the word 'community' with far too much ease. My interpretation of a community is "many like minded people working as a team/network/union for the betterment of that community" of course as we travel around the world 'community' can mean different things- but generally it will have that in its meaning somewhere. Facebook isnt that thing,and can never become that thing, purely because of its design and reason for being, it takes the real world connections and all its differences and digitises it. its a smudged photo-copy rather than a fine print imo. There are actually communities as i described on the net if you look (you have looked, but generally speaking) ones that are based on the the things we hold dearly, those things bring people together , like WOW for instance bringing people from all walks of life together under one roof, that's more of a community that FB could ever want to be.
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          May 14 2011: An interesting thing I learned in the research for the book: "community" comes from the latin word for "common," as does "communication." You can't have a community unless you share some ideas in common, would be one way to tie that all together. And the filter bubble makes it harder to do that at a national level -- everyone's in their own bubble, isolated from others.
  • May 14 2011: I'm wondering if you think there's a natural online consumer response to having information filtered out. Won't the people who seek information and who share information to their networks just go outside to places like link sharing (i'm thinking of places like reddit), community based websites to get new information to share inside their network? When our views weren't represented by the media, activists created blogs and took actions with new online organizations.
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      May 14 2011: One of my concerns about this whole thing is that we're mostly not aware of the filtering that's currently going on. Most people I talk to don't know that Google and Facebook are doing what they're doing -- that what they see isn't the whole picture. If they did, maybe such a response would emerge, but until they do, I think it's unlikely to. Reddit is great in many ways -- I like the sense of group curation -- but the main audience there is way more informed about these issues than most folks.
      • May 14 2011: I think you are speaking to the issue of whether and how the human brain can filter/curate better than technology... and I think in most cases it can. So what we need more of at work with the types of personalization engines that Google and FB use is the human touch. That costs money and will have an impact on the bottom line, but the quality of the filtering will go up creating greater appreciation and possibly more purchases of things that have a greater value and cost more.
  • May 14 2011: Hi , just commented on the FB, about whether or not FB is actually comparable to google and if it is actually a community at all? any thoughts?
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    May 14 2011: Some other industries while struggling to be more customised to be more closer to the customer and hence successful in this era of "customer delightment" , what would you like to say to them about the downside of being too customized ?
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      May 14 2011: Well, I'd say there's a balance -- that you want to offer people tools for managing information, but you want to make sure those tools serve their long-term interest as citizens as well as their short-term consumer compulsions.
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        May 14 2011: Agree, what you said about balance , but is not that balance again relative to the requirement of time & space ?
        Just as an example , just to get a visa of one country I need to disclose lot detail of my life history every time even in this data rich era where as for some other country it's not that much. Even the data protection law for privacy also differs from country to country.

        The other point now a days successful commercial organisations are no more focused to "short term consumer complusions" rather they want build longer term relation with thier customers by understanding their wants and need offering an win win solution.

        So the question comes again where should we draw the line of Balance ?
        Really thanks for your time & opportunity given here
  • May 14 2011: I am of the view that Google and Facebook should aspire to Google's maxim: "Don't be evil", Arguably Facebook and Google are the two most powerful web companies in the world. I wish they would try to remain as impartial as they could/can while fulfliin their financial obligations.

    I dislike this cloak and dagger approach rival companies have taken in recent days, I'd like to see competition through inventiveness and development not PR companies, law suits and propoganda.

    What is your view Eli? (I may have missed the precise point this thread was about, but I hope my point was profound)
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      May 14 2011: Totally agree, Daniel. These companies have a huge responsibility -- their algorithms control a lot of what we see and hear online. They need to use it wisely, and not succumb to short-term financial pressure -- it's in their long-term interest to do good.
      • May 14 2011: Do you that Google pays about 2.4% of taxes of it's pre-tax profits in the US? This is even less than GE. How does seeking out taxhavens rhyme with ' Don't be evil'?
      • May 14 2011: In the UK we generally say 'did well' as opposed to the American did good. It's an amusing quirk of language :) But as your countrymen say, it's cool.

        I don't necessarily agree with the whole of your premise regarding filter bubbles. Certainly on Facebook I have cultivated a news feed page full of Richard Dawkins, TED debates, CBS/ BBC news articles, White House videos and other things.

        On google however as a student I have to be seeking out information and my bubble must be rather large by now. I think these algorithms should have controls, just as on Google images there are obscenity controls - but a novice might not know what these algorithms actually do, and I argue they can be beneficial for granny (or a lay person) who has a rose tinted view of world events.
      • May 14 2011: And these large companies are not much better than Rupert Murdoch so it is not about the politics but the principle of it.
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        May 14 2011: Eli I don't see a valid point about financials of companies like Google/Facebook.

        IMHO, if they strive by letting people use their products as much as possible and showing ads in that period. So, if I go to Google and can't find what I wanted I'll move to other resource or dig deeper in results.

        Sadly, it's tough with Facebook/Twitter, unless you use the on your phones 24*7. Still, in them, if I have many friends/follow a lot of users I would be interacting with a few of them more often then rest, and knowing what my Mom is doing would be much beneficial than what some hanky-panky, whom i had to add due to >socio politics
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        May 16 2011: Advertising on Blogger? Are people able to manage the advertising that they have willing signed up too, in order to make money, has been overridden in the selection process and control of Google's main money making schemes?
    • May 14 2011: I think you are hitting some of the thread here Daniel. I certainly like the "Don't be evil" hope and ideal too. How do we make the personalization and customizing to individuals and users both profitable to business and safe for the users in long term, would be my big ponder Eli. There are even a lot of high tech and huge corps that the bottom line is in the cash. I understand they must make money to prosper but how can things be changed for this type company with personalization if many of the consumers don't even understand the potential dangers or care?
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        May 14 2011: Well, the interesting thing is that part of the allure of both companies (and a lot of the big Internet companies) is that they're supposed to be about more than money. A lot of people go to work for Google or Facebook or Apple because they want to change the world (and, yes, get rich doing it.) So my hope is that there's some moral leverage here -- that if enough of us can call out this behavior, they may listen, because it's actually part of the motivation to work there.
  • May 14 2011: Is the filter bubble intentional (for various reasons), or is it just a technical issue?
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      May 14 2011: It's intentional -- and, to a significant degree, well-intentioned. The Google engineers I've spoken to seem to genuinely want to help people find the stuff that's relevant to them. (They also seem to genuinely want to make money, and of course personalization helps with that, too.)

      I see this mostly as a blind spot: some engineers and companies don't agree or admit that what they're doing has social and ethical consequences they need to take seriously. Others admit it's a problem but put it low on the priority list -- or just don't know how to solve it.
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        May 15 2011: Eli, I appreciate your research into this issue and publication for all of us to be aware of it. I also appreciate you not demonizing anyone who is a part of this. I've heard a view calls to action in this thread and in your talk.

        1. Be aware that the filter bubble exists.
        2. Tweak your settings to reduce it to the extent that you can as a consumer.
        3. Call on companies to allow for greater consumer control.
        4. Call on companies to build in a certain "ethics" into their filters
        5. Potential government intervention.

        What are your aspirations now that the book is out? Are you waiting to see what the response is? For example, is this something that is important to people and that they want to change? Will you capture that energy like you did with MoveOn to forge an organized effort to create change?

        You have had great access to the engineers and decision-makers through your research and talks at Pop!Tech and TED, are they allying with you to change the code? Or are they waiting for consumer response?