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Is The Internet The Same For Everybody?
January 15, 2012
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Does Googling work the same way for everybody? According to Google's own blog this week, possibly not: The company announced that its search results will soon offer a new, personalized dimension. Dubbing the initiative "Search, Plus Your World", the company said that in addition to results from the public internet, Googlers will now get information drawn from "personal content or things shared with you by people you care about."

Some critics quickly derided the idea as "Search, Plus Your Google+", accusing the company of using search engines to simply promote its own social media service, and Twitter responded with a public snit (calling the announcement a "bad day for the internet").

But while the announcement is obviously not popular with business rivals, does it mean anything for the rest of us? Possibly: Many people assume that typing a term into a search engine will yield the same result every time, no matter who is doing the searching. But what if you were to get vastly different results, just because of who you are?

Internet activist Eli Pariser has made a point of drawing attention to this issue. Last year, well before Google's announcement that it wanted to tailor search results to "your world", he gave a TED Conference talk in which he demonstrated how this was already happening.

Pariser showed how two friends of his, with two different search histories, both typed the word "Egypt" into Google at the same time. Both got very different results: One was presented sites relating to the protests in Tahrir Square that were happening at the time; the other was given tourism and travel-related results.

For many people, that is a very good thing -- getting results tailored to your interests means you will likely have to spend less time sorting through extra information. But does that mean that the internet could one day start delivering different information to different people? And who will decide what that will be?

Here is Eli Pariser at a TED conference last year in California, outlining his concerns that we may soon find ourselves trapped in our own online "filter bubbles":



Official Google Blog

The Economist


WebPro News


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