Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

The End of the Internet


All Internet users are aware that China (among others) censors access. Few users outside of China (and other restrictive countries) think their access is censored. How would they know?

If I had said filtered instead of censored, would you know the difference? You’re probably aware search engines use filter bubbles. What about browsers? If they do, how could we tell?

We know how to make the computer do anything. Given the how, who filters the Internet, and why? Google’s search engine uses filter bubbles and not just because they can.

Google filters make sure you see the ads they’re selling. They combine search and ads into one seamless personalized package. Think of it as the monetized you. I’m sure Google does.

The filters of a filter bubble are how a search engine (or a browser) uses your personal online history to block things you weren’t interested in. The bubble describes your own isolated version of the Internet, after filtration. One person to a bubble.

While you may appreciate not seeing ads for things you don’t care about, filter bubbles are no guarantee. If advertisers pay more, their ads will be seen by more people, interested or not.

Whether you’re interested or not, pages will appear in your search because they paid for Search Engine Optimization. Personalization is more about their control than your preferences. Different methods, but in the end a lot like China.

What you see is what you get, but you don’t know what you don’t get, i.e., what you didn’t see. It may not seem important if you’re just browsing for fun, but if you seriously need good answers, if you’re a researcher, writer, or scholar, what then?

If we each see the Internet differently, if we’re all confined to our own personal bubbles, then how can we discuss and compare? How can we apply the scientific method? What is an original source, if we don’t see the same books with the same text?

Saying our Internet experience is personalized, that it’s been filtered into a bubble, sounds somewhat innocuous. It’s not. The bubble is more like the inside of a mirrored prison cell. Being alone in a cell is not personalization; in prison it’s solitary.

If all we see is a reflection of who we already are, then the Internet is no longer the fabled Looking Glass—a path to new and wondrous adventures. If it only reflects who we are, then the glass bubble surrounding us is nothing more than a dumb mirror.

Isolated individual Internets seem to please the masses. If this is the end of the open Internet, the Internet of discovery, will enough people care? Many already don’t. I do, how about you?

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