the latest from 2am Media

24 Jun

What are the ethical issues surrounding personalisation in search?


I’m going to begin this blog with a slight warning, it may be negative, and wasting the time of busy people is something that I’d hate to do, so here you go: the ethics of personalisation online and the issues which might arise as a result. I understand that it is not something that everyone will be very interested in so I don’t mind if you decide not to read on.

Thanks for sticking around if you’re still with me…

Earlier last week the work of Eli Pariser was brought to my attention (he’s developed a theory very close to my arguments of Passive Media Individualism and The Personalisation Era) I liked how passionate he was on the subject of personalisation – something I feel quite strongly about too -the thing is he’s that interested in the subject that he’s even written a book about it! The topic of Google’s personalised search soon arose, when Cyrus spoke about how almost every result shown in a browser is altered in some way this means that it is very rare that any two people will see the same search results.

I’m not really sure what’s wrong with it, people now see results that are specific and even more relevant to their search requirements. Our computer experience will vastly improve because personalisation seems to be the future as relevancy is often always seen as a good thing. But this is objected by Eric Schmit as he explains how it will be hard for people to consume or watch things that haven’t been tailored specifically for them.

I find it hard to get to grips with why it would be hard for me to see things that haven’t been adapted especially for me. I thought search engines were going to show me the very best results?

In fact they are but ‘best’ can change according to other people’s point of view. “Increasingly online, it is becoming impossible to escape your own point of view”- Eli Pariser.

It’s good for me that I am always right, always. I love to be right all of the time as it means that my opinions are the only ones that matter and I tend to win a lot of arguments. It’s good to have a computer that can reflect your own opinions right back at you. However, what happens when I’m wrong, the web won’t expose me to a variety of opinions again.

Although I may not enjoy looking at some things on the internet, it doesn’t mean that I don’t think they’re important and i never want to look at them again. I like being able to be free to surf the web and look at things I am in the mood to see, which may change day to day. This is ‘the physiological equivalent to obesity’ Prasier says.

The personalisation filters are currently being used and may change what you are free to see on the web. So if you are one of those people who uses the internet for entertainment and just spends hours after hours on facebook then this now may be all you can do.

As people look at Google-news and see a one sided point of view which reflects their own view on the stories in the news they are not being going to be shown other opinions, which is not good as people are not able to become open minded. In the users perspective they may find this the ‘best’ result but in the long run is it really for the best?

Now here’s the question we have been waiting for, is it ethical for search engines to be personalised in this way?

The majority of people won’t even realise that they’re search engine is personalised because they will still be visiting the same sites but in my opinion it defiantly is not ethical. Although it may comfort people to have results which sit perfectly with their own politics, is it actually better for them? We are not providing a balanced mix of results, which I don’t think is good for people and I find it frightening that we are handing over control to a system that has been designed specifically not to provide us with a mixed set of results.

Plus, is it reasonable to expect a business entry to act for the greater good? But it has always been this way, people tend to look at news which sits most comfortably with them and even if there was a mix of results people would still look at what they think will sit best with them.

Finally we come to the questions, should we be afraid of personalisation? should there be more ‘balanced’ queries? should we be pushing for easier ways to turn it off? or should we all just abandon the internet and go into hiding?

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