Pariser, Eli. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You (New York: Penguin, 2011)
Eli Pariser uses the concept of a "bubble" to connote an isolated, self-contained attitude that willfully ignores contrary evidence from the outside world, but this phenomenon may be both more pervasive and less deliberate than it might seem at first. Unintentional biases may creep into our lives in ways that are less than obvious, with dangerously broad effects:
Democracy requires citizens to see things from one another's point of view, but instead we're more and more enclosed in our own bubbles. Democracy requires a reliance on shared facts; instead we're being offered parallel but separate universes. (p. 5, Introduction)
He also sees this taking effect via "prediction engines [are] constantly creating and refining a theory of who you are and what you'll do and want next:"
Together, these engines create a unique universe of information for each of us--what I've come to call a filter bubble--which fundamentally alters the way we encounter ideas and information. (p. 9, Introduction)
The dangers of Google and other such systems should be quite evident here, despite their "don't be evil" protestations:
"If you are not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold." (p. 21, Andrew (blue_beetle) Lewis, MetaFilter)
Our aggregated online personal information has great value--but the relationship's power imbalance is problematic:
It'd be one thing if we all knew everything about each other. It's another when centralized entities know a lot more about us than we know about each other--and sometimes, more than we know about ourselves. If knowledge is power, then asymmetries in knowledge are asymmetries in power. (p. 147)
This one-way transparency is rather like being in a Panopticon or a psychology experiment, where we live our lives under the unblinking eye of some Sauron-like technological surveillance regime:
...there's more than a little irony in the fact that companies whose public ideologies revolve around openness and transparency are so opaque themselves. (p. 229)
The negative effect on citizenship is worth mentioning, because "Ultimately, democracy works only if we citizens are capable of thinking beyond our narrow self-interest:"
But to do so, we need a shared view of the world we cohabit. We need to come into contact with other peoples' lives and needs and desires. The filter bubble pushes us in the opposite direction--it creates the impression that our narrow self-interest is all that exists. And while this is great for getting people to shop online, it's not great for getting people to make better decisions together. (p. 164)
If this power is used solely for surveillance and marketing, that's a sad commentary on our cultural values. As Pariser observes, "some of these problems are too important to leave in the hands of private actors with profit-seeking motives. That's where governments come in." (p. 237)