Tech Book Review - The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You

The former director of MoveOn.org, Eli Pariser, shows how Google, Facebook, and other sites track your mouse clicks so they can filter results and tailor them to your preferences.


The idea of the Internet as a free and open conversation “is fast becoming quaint,” said Jesse Singal in The Boston Globe. Not long ago, it was still possible to hope that the Internet would forever be a “clearinghouse of information and fierce debate,” a place where users would constantly be confronted by new and challenging ideas. As Eli Pariser observes, things haven’t turned out that way. Pariser’s Google isn’t your Google. Even his CNN.com isn’t your CNN.com. Instead, the pages many of us see have been tailored to who we are, where we live, and what we’ve clicked on. Pariser, the former director of the liberal activist group MoveOn.org, liked to monitor the opinions of conservative pundits using Facebook; one day, the pundits disappeared. Google had filtered his “news feed” not for political reasons, but to limit his updates to “friends” he’d interacted with.

Welcome to what’s euphemistically called the “personalized” Web, said Christopher Caldwell in the Financial Times. Google, Facebook, Amazon.com, and other “filtering Goliaths” are forever tracking your mouse clicks and keystrokes in order to feed you the news you’re likely to want and the kind of products and advertising pitches you’re likely to respond to. The Internet isn’t even tailored to suit your tastes, really. It’s “personalized the way a blackmail note is personalized—to better fit your particular vulnerabilities.” Yet even our most benign impulses can lead us into cul-de-sacs, said The Economist. As filtering continues to privilege the popular above the unpopular, “people will be invisibly steered away from important issues that are unpleasant or complex, such as homelessness or foreign policy.”

“There’s another problem with filters: People like them,” said Paul Boutin in The Wall Street Journal. In a book that’s mostly a “powerful indictment” of a system that threatens to turn us all into ill-informed partisans, Pariser “fumbles around in search of a solution” because he knows that the Internet is too unwieldy now to be navigated without filtering software. Even so, “The Filter Bubble is well-timed” because the threat it describes is “real but not yet pandemic.” As Pariser notes, Google and Facebook both provide ways that users can disable personalization filters if they choose to. What’s more, the effects of filtering are sometimes mild. “In a test I conducted myself,” I recently asked a handful of Google users across the country to search a phrase in the news and we came up with almost identical results. “To tell the truth, we were kind of disappointed.” - Get the book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You on Amazon.com!

- As seen in The Week



Tasty Tidbits of News from the Tech Front

A Social Network for Seniors
Proust.com encourages older users to share memories and life stories by prompting them with questions. Barry Diller’s IAC this week launched a social networking site specifically designed with senior citizens in mind, said Austin Carr in FastCompany.com. Proust.com encourages older users to share memories and life stories by prompting them with questions about cherished events like their first kiss and favorite birthdays. Co-founder Tom Cortese said the idea of preserving family stories came to him after watching his grandmother battle dementia. “It was just this process of seeing memories go by the wayside,” he said. “There were so many stories I wish I knew about her life.” Modeled after a questionnaire devised by the master of nostalgia, French novelist Marcel Proust, the site helps users craft personal histories through its Q&A format. It also allows members and close family to purchase e-books and even physical copies of the digital autobiographies.

Ryan Seacrest's Fear of BlackBerry Neck
Ryan Seacrest is terrified of contracting “BlackBerry neck,” says the National Enquirer. The distinctive pattern of unsightly creases and wrinkles is caused by spending hours with a bent neck, looking down at one’s smart phone. The American Idol host is on his BlackBerry all day, and a source says he “keeps showing everybody his neck and asking if they can see anything. Now he’s trying to train himself to text without bending.”

Taking a Byte out of Cybercrime
Tens of thousands of new malicious pieces of software are being identified every day. The fight against hackers is projected to cost U.S. companies $130 billion in 2011, triple what they paid in 2006, said David Goldman in CNNMoney.com. This “rising tide of online crime” could be even more dangerous than the cyberwar the Pentagon fears, said Noah Shachtman in The Washington Post. With tens of thousands of new malicious pieces of software (malware) being identified each day, the Web could soon look “like the South Bronx circa 1989—a place where crooks hold such sway that honest people find it hard to live or work there.” Yet it’s only a “relatively small number of companies that support the criminal underground.” Half the world’s spam comes from just 1 percent of Internet service providers (ISPs). More data might lead us right to the criminals, but currently only 30 percent of companies report all of their data breaches.

The ID10T Story of the Week
A fugitive by the name of Victor Burgos taunted police on his Facebook page, posting "Catch me if you can. I'm in Brooklyn." Cops quickly tracked down Burgos to an apartment in Brookly where he was sitting at a computer with his Facebook page open. Uh dewd, it's called using the privacy setting?

Three Reasons Why Millionaires Love Facebook And Hate Twitter
Millionaires are signing up for Facebook in droves, but dropping out of Twitter, according to a new survey reported on by the Wall Street Journal. Julie Zeveloff of Business Insider says the survey, by Spectrem Group, found that 46% of online users with investible assets of $1 million or more are members of Facebook, up from 26% a year ago. The number of millionaire Twitter users, on the other hand, decreased from 5% to 3%.

There are three reasons for the difference in millionaire usage between the two sites, which are often mentioned in the same breath. First, Twitter is super open, making it tough for "control freak" millionaires to filter information. Facebook, meanwhile, has plenty of privacy settings. The second factor is age. From the WSJ: According to the study, among those with $5 million or more in investible assets, the boomers are slightly more likely to use Facebook than the youngest investors — 56% vs. 50%, respectively. (Warren Buffett is an exception, of course). Twitter was generally more popular with the younger-millionaire crowd. Finally, Twitter is a broadcasting tool, while Facebook is a networking tool. Savvy millionaires prefer the latter.

And finally, one of the perils of online relationships...
Cheryl Gray, 50, of Michigan is suing Wylie Iwan, 35, of Washington state after he ended their online relationship. Gray claims that after "meeting" Iwan on Facebook, she bought him gifts and spent hours a day communicating with him, before Iwan met someone else and disparaged her on Facebook. "I did nothing wrong," said Iwan. "It was an online relationship."

- As seen in The Week

Handwriting: No longer necessary?

Officials in Indiana have stopped requiring schools to teach third graders the art of cursive handwriting. In a few decades, no one who grew up in Indiana will be able to sign his or her name, said Theodore Dalrymple in The Wall Street Journal. That’s because state officials have stopped requiring schools to teach third graders the art of cursive handwriting—the looping, joined-up letters that have stood for centuries as a sign of education and sophistication.

Instead, students will be encouraged to focus on keyboard skills, on the principle that almost all writing today is done on a computer and a cell phone. Other states may soon follow, since the federal government’s core standards for schools make no mention of cursive handwriting. This is sad—and extremely shortsighted. Developing their own handwriting gives young people a powerful, and tactile, sense of their individuality and character. And when these schoolchildren grow up and have to sign a marriage certificate or will, will they need to “hire an out-of-stater or immigrant” to do it for them?

If only I could hire someone to sign my name, said Craig McInnes in The Vancouver Sun. I am “cursively challenged,” and the “meaningless scrawl” I call my signature comes out differently every time. Indeed, my handwriting has always been awful, no matter how many school drills I performed. Yet people still insist you can read a person’s character from their longhand. I live in fear of “having to write even short phrases on birthday cards,” in case the recipient concludes that I am an illiterate half-wit. Romantics may pine for the past, but give me a keyboard any day. In today’s workplace, said Kayla Webley in Time.com, knowing how to type is a vital skill. Knowing how to write longhand is as useful as “being able to churn butter.”

Cursive is far more than an “irrelevant relic” of the 20th century, said Mark Bennett in the Terre Haute, Ind., Tribune-Star. Studies have found that handwriting boosts fine motor skills in children, and writing things out by hand enhances comprehension and learning. Just as schools still teach math, even though “most of us rely on calculators to divide and multiply,” so should school districts continue to teach children both how to craft handwritten notes and how to type. Fortunately, many of Indiana’s third-grade teachers understand this, and say they’ll continue to teach cursive even if it isn’t required. The writing’s on the wall: Man cannot communicate by texting alone.

- As seen in The Week
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How to Avoid Scams on Craigslist

When on Craig'slist be sure to deal locally, insist on cash, do some research, and pay cautiously.


1. Deal locally. Follow the same common-sense precautions you would if listing or answering a traditional classified ad. Make deals with local people whenever possible so that you’ll be able to meet face to face.

2. Insist on cash. “Fake checks and money orders are common.” If you accept one as a payment, your bank will “hold you—not the buyer—responsible.”

3. Do some research. When you can’t deal locally, check up on the other party: Get a street address and look it up on a White Pages service such as whitepages.com. If there’s a listing, “that’s a pretty good start” toward establishing your counterpart’s baseline reliability. Google the person, too.

4. Pay cautiously. Don’t ever wire money: Only scammers demand it. And “for God’s sake,” don’t e-mail your credit card numbers.

- As seen in Wired.com
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