A quiet revolution is taking place on the Internet. The top 50 websites collect an average of 64 bits of information each time we visit. The personal data they track — from our politics to the shoes we just browsed on Zappos – help advertisers tailor offers just for us. But one online pioneer believes we pay a big price for that customized experience – living in our own information universe. In our so-called “filter bubble,” we receive mainly familiar news that confirms our beliefs. And we don’t know what’s being hidden from us. Diane and her guest, Eli Pariser, talk about understanding the costs of online personalization.

Guests

  • Eli Pariser Board President and former executive director of MoveOn.org

Author Extra: Eli Pariser Answers Your Questions

Eli Pariser stayed after the show to answer a few more questions.####

Q: Can you speak to the long-term retention of social media data, such as Tweets and Facebook status updates? The value of tweets to the individuals who make them diminish over time. Do you advocate for deleting tweets as they become stale?
– From Neil via Email

A: I think it’s a little different for Twitter than for Facebook, because Twitter is an inherently public medium – everything you do is public. And in general, I’m for retaining public data – the good, the bad, and the in-between.

Facebook should give users a choice in the matter when the data in question is private – if you want to take down your Facebook account and the data associated with it, there should probably be a process for that. Right now, Facebook seems to be willing to make private data (like when you said you were a fan of something in 2009) public without your consent. So it’d be good if there was a way to take that data out of their systems entirely.

Q: Google and Facebook are free and nobody is compelled to use them. Why shouldn’t they construct their algorithms to best suit their business needs?
– From Mark via Email

A: Mark Zuckerberg often mentions that he wants to make Facebook an indispensible utility, like a phone company. If that’s what he wants to do, more power to him – but utilities have a responsibility to the public to serve them well. This is like a phone company saying, “we’re going to tap your calls and use them however we want, and if you don’t like it you can use another communication platform.”

Q: I tend to be fairly conservative when it comes to personal information
I put out on the web, and I also use firewall software such as Peer
Block which is supposed to block most IP addresses and HTTP that try
to connect to my computer… is this doing anything is the way of
protecting my information or is it just making me feel better?

– Steve via Email

A: I did compile a list of the 10 quickest fixes here on my website, www.thefilterbubble.com. But the truth is that there’s no permanent way to protect yourself or opt out – the technology that does the data mining and personalization is way ahead of the tech that protects most users.

Q: Knowing this happens, how is writing a book that will be recommended to people on Amazon who already agree, going to change things?
– Michael via Email

A: Well, that’s where the existing broadcast media come in – hopefully, I’ll get out of the bubble of people interested in personalization. Thank goodness for Diane Rehm.

Read an Excerpt

From The Filter Bubble. Copyright 2011 by Eli Pariser. Excerpted by kind permission of Penguin Press:

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