Yesterday I found one of those excellent talks in my podcast-feed by TED. Eli Pariser impressed us (or at least me) by presenting the ways that google and facebook among others might hide reality from us. Even if they just act with the intention to please us and to increase the number of hits on their pages; the idea that those companies are already censoring the web is somehow scary.
Of course, we all know, that we only see a fraction of reality, and we probably are biased in what we read (even if we try to have at least a glimpse at the opposite side). But most of us think, that reality might be out there, waiting for us to search for it – and this thought might be more erroneous that we imagine. And as the web gets wider and wider, the risk of getting stuck in a bubble is increasing, and we have to ponder about ways to pop this bubble.
One possibility might be to hide your identity. There are search engines like ixquick, that do not show your identity to the pages you visit.
You also might contribute to anonymity on the web via the onion router project, a possibility that should be used anyway, just to make us all safer. And if google does not know who you are, they have to work in standard mode, which might be wider.
Maybe a concious user might click on some links that are outside his usual scope, just to confuse the search engines and to broaden his views.
And you might just switch your search engines from time to time, like you did in the past, when intellectuals were subscribed to several newspapers.
To trust the companies with the development of better search engines to raise public awareness (as Eli Pariser is suggesting) is in my eyes short sighted and naive. Most users are happy with the way the search engines work and will use the one that caters to their needs. So why should any company not care about the wishes of their customers.
And for the newspapers: the ethics that Eli Pariser brought up are not in general use. Even if some major newspapers pretend to be less biased, they still are. And if broadcasting companies were so ethical, why would so many intellectuals insist on public radio and television?
So in the end, one just has to know about these hidden algorithms and try to work around them.