The Great Filter Bubble

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It all started a few years ago. I’m upstairs on my Mac and my 20 year-old student son is downstairs on his Mac. He needs Photoshop for his college projects but I say No Way, Jose, because it costs an arm and a leg and anyhow, I have it on my computer so he can use my software. Nah, he responds like all good 20 year-old sons. So, we both go onto and check on the price of Adobe Elements Student Price.

What a blow, I say to myself, $99 seems a bit steep. He calls up from downstairs, Mom, a bargain, can I get it? Some time during the next ten-minute conversation we discover on his Mac he is getting the same product on the same page for $79 while I am offered it at $99. Both of us have logged in as students.


Q. What caused it?  A. Bubble Filtering or Filtering Bubble, whichever way you want to say it.

So how does it work and why could it be a problem?


It is all about algorithms, which promote things they think you like. Algorithms get all this stuff they think you like off you as you troll around the Internet, off social networks, your emails even, and then adds in a bit of age, education standard, ethnic origin, marital status, religious convictions and political leanings and boom, it knows what you like better than you do.

I recently visited a client and we were both on our own computers and Google searching a building she had visited in India. Her images she received in her search were not the same as the ones I received in the search, even though we used exactly the same search criteria.

This is very disconcerting for me because as a web developer I conduct a lot of research for my clients on everything from Radical Conservatism Groups Camping, to Breast Cancer, which is definitely worrying as I now seem to get a boatload of connected commercials on cable TV that are too similar to my search criteria.


Aha, I hear you say, but I use Private Browsing. Well, try reading the small print. Your Internet Provider still knows where you are going and what you are reading. And advertisers will continue to build profiles on your activity.

So, lets go one further.


Now you know you are being analyzed wherever you go on the Internet, think on this. Somewhere in this big wide world is an event that interests you, and you would like to read more. [lightbox style=”modern” image_path=”” popup=”” link_to_page=”” target=”_self” description=”” size=”two_col_large”] How would you feel if you knew you were only reading the articles that have been chosen for you to read, instead of ones that may be more accurate but have been filtered out or demoted as a result of your Internet profile. Sorry folks, but it is happening all the time and you are getting fed one slant on a story when your next-door neighbor is reading a totally different slant on the same story.

This could actually be quite harmful during election time if you don’t know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.


Unfortunately, even when you are signed off the internet, you are still being tracked, by the supermarket where you purchased your groceries, the TV channels you watch, and by your FICO® score, how much electricity or gas you use, how much you spend on gas for the car, what car you drive, what your mortgage is, what other loans you have, and if you have GPS set to ON, then where you go, where you park, how long you are at your destination, the list is endless. And even if you are grateful for that awful post you wrote, or argument you had on your Facebook page, even though you deleted the original, it’s still out there. Even Facebook keeps copies of everything you post, including your edits, deletions, and your canceled accounts.

Oh Shut Up! Please, I hear you say.


If you don’t believe me, read another example yourself. Tom Vanderbilt from Wired wrote a great article after interviewing Netflix’ Carlos Gomez-Uribe and Xavier Amatriain, but don’t le me stop you, read it yourself here.

Oh, and while we are chatting about Netflix, please Netflix, you have got my algorithm all wrong. Your recommendations of what I like are completely wrong. I may have briefly looked at ‘Vampires of the Damned’ for about 15 seconds, but please remove all those gory recommendations off Steph’s List.  Thanks a bunch.

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