Doug Gross has a very interesting and thought-provoking article on CNN about this. He quotes Eli Pariser, who asks some very important questions about how Google, Facebook and others customize what we see online in terms of our preferences. My political views are the polar opposite of Mr. Pariser's, but he's done us all an important service by raising this issue. Here's an extract from the article.
One of the things that's really interesting about the filter bubble is that it's invisible. You can't see how your Internet, the websites you visit, are different than what other people see. They are sort of slipping further and further apart.
A couple of years ago, when you Googled something, everyone would get the same result. Now, when I've done these experiments, you can really get these dramatically different results. One person Googles and sees a lot of news about protests and the other person gets travel agents talking about traveling to Egypt.
I'm basically trying to make visible this sort of membrane of personalized filters that surround us wherever we go online, and let's see what we see.
On why the "bubble's" silent nature is bad
It's one thing when you turn on MSNBC or Fox News. When you do that, you know what the editing rule is -- what kind of things you'd expect to see there and what kind of things you'd expect to be edited out. But with a Facebook news feed or Google News, you don't know who they think you are. You don't know what's been edited out. It can really distort your view of the world.
Sometimes the unexpected, serendipitous articles or discoveries are some of the very best moments when you learn about some whole new process or way of thinking or topic. It's sad if we lose that just so a few companies can get more ad clicks.
. . .
There are ways in which this stuff is very useful, in particular for consumers being able to find the products that fit their tastes. But for citizens, it's a real problem. Democracy actually requires that the whole public be able to see common problems and address them and step outside of their own sort of narrow self-interest to do so.
This makes every step of that much more complicated. The problems you see may not be the same problems that other people see. I think it's easier than ever to hear only what you want to hear. That doesn't make a good citizen.
There's more at the link. Recommended reading.