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Personalization: Isolated in Your Own Bubble

We live in a world where everything you can think of, can be found on the Internet. It should come as no surprise this had led to a problem, also known as the rabbit hole problem. There is so much content available, that the consumer gets lost in it. That’s why companies had to come up with a solution which is known today as personalized marketing. By using cookies for example, companies can follow your browsing behaviour and use this to present you with personalized offerings and content. Personalized marketing is essential for companies to ensure that consumers will keep coming back.

The Filter Bubble

A consequence of personalization is something that’s called the ‘filter bubble’, introduced by Eli Pariser. The filter bubble is an invisible algorithm that selectively guesses what information someone would like to see based on the search history of the user. Common examples are Google’s search results and Facebook’s news feed. What happens is that users don’t get to see the information that disagrees with their viewpoint and thus isolating them in their ideological information bubbles. But what determines what you get to see? You can think of clicks, viewing friends, likes on Facebook, reading news stories and so on.

The Downside of Personalization

Personalization may be helpful for online shopping, but it could have negative implications for the discourse in society because it closes us off to new ideas, people with other backgrounds, and opinions but also other crucial information. We don’t challenge our beliefs anymore and become blind to other perspectives. It thus creates the impression that our narrow view of the world is all that there is. As Pariser said, “too much candy and not enough carrots”.

Hitting the Psychological Jackpot

However, the filter bubble can not only be explained by online algorithms, but also by a persistent psychological driver: the confirmation bias. This is the tendency to search, interpret and recall information in a way that confirms our pre-existing beliefs or assumptions, while giving less attention to alternative information. This effect is stronger for emotional issues and personal beliefs. It can be explained by wishful thinking and the limited human capacity to process information. The result is overconfidence in your own beliefs and poor decisions due to this bias. The filter bubble not only seems to be the problem, we ourselves contribute to it as well.

It is debated whether personalized filtering is actually happening and if it is, to what extent? But it is definitely something we shouldn’t put aside without giving it some thought. Be aware of the fact that what you see on Google might be something different than what someone else sees. If you are looking for a good movie to watch on Netflix, it is a good thing that they already know what you like, but there might be more to it. What do you think, is personalization beneficial or harmful?

The filter bubble is likely having an impact on important decisions in your personal life. Decisions such as the way in which you have informed yourself about the upcoming elections. A relevant question to ask yourself – is it possible that the filter bubble has affected your vote for the elections?

Written by Jasmijn van Veggel

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