Google…stop thinking for me!

10 January 2012

I’m new to Internet governance. In fact, before the 5th IGF in Vilnius, the Internet was just something short of miraculous that worked – most of the time – and delivered the results I needed – most of the time. I had no idea it was so complex and that so much was involved in its governance. The more I know, the more I realise that I don’t know. And many months later, I’m still at sea.

Internet activist Eli Pariser warns me that Google and Facebook and even the New York Times (imagine!) are personalising my searches so that I get the results they think I am looking for. Note: the results THEY think I want. This scares me – because I already know what I know and getting more information about what I know will only convince me that I’m right – or even more right than I thought I was. What I need to get is an alternate view – something that challenges what I think, gives me pause for thought, and makes me examine my beliefs and perspectives.

What if I am doing research or checking for information that I’ve never wanted or needed before? What if I am standing on the verge of a whole new world just waiting to take that first step? What if?

So, true to form, (and as I admittedly don’t know enough to know whom to believe) I checked to see what Google has to say. And now I’m even more afraid. Google is morphing its Search engine with my world! This search Search plus Your World is capable of understanding people and relationships. (Hey, I’ve done a huge amount of introspective work and even I can’t lay claim to that!) It promises to find information just for me, based on what I’ve already shared and information my friends have shared. It’s going to let me find people I’m close to or may be interested in following, and pages and people related to my interests. It’s as if my world is going to stop spinning right now – and my choices and preferences as they are today will be frozen in Google time.

Am I worrying needlessly? In his recent blog post Are enabling technologies ‘neutral  Aldo Matteucci has this to say: ‘My hunch is that search engines implicitly yet effectively favor the “mainstream” over diversity and tend to confirm prejudice over challenging it. They strengthen and support authority as against valid arguments. To the extent that they are driven by ex-ante and self-fulfilling choice criteria like “most popular” they have limited informational validity.’

And as if that wasn’t enough to leave me quaking in my boots, Gerard Celenete (Trends Journal) is predicting: ‘The coming year will be the beginning of the end of Internet Freedom: A battle between the governments and the people. Governments will propose legislation for a new “authentication technology,” requiring Internet users to present the equivalent of a driver’s license and/or bill of health to navigate cyberspace. For the general population it will represent yet another curtailing of freedom and level of governmental control.’

So, not only am I, as an unedified Internet user, now facing a future whereby my searches are biased in favour of my likes, everything I do will be tracked and noted in the Captain’s log. Oh. Wait. Isn’t that already happening?

Google tells me that ‘While there may be 7 billion people and 197 million square miles on Earth, a septillion stars and a trillion webpages, we spend our short, precious lives living in a particular town, with particular friends and family, orbiting a single star and relying on a tiny slice of the world’s information.’

Google – I agree. Absolutely. How many of us already think that the small town in which we live is the centre of the Universe without realizing that we are indeed only enjoying a tiny sliver of a greater world?
But then you say that your dream is to ‘have technology enable everyone to experience the richness of all their information and people around them’. And yet what you seem to be doing is limiting my world to what I already know, to those I already know.

I want more from you! I want what was promised when the Internet first took hold. I want the world. Not your view of the world. The world. In its entirety. A view from which I can pick and choose the information I need and not simply what you think I want.

Google… stop thinking for me!

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