Personalised search results risk trapping readers in ‘web of one’

By Aaran Fronda

Internet users are at risk of becoming trapped in a narrow information bubble as search engines tailor information to personal tastes.

Experts warn that as companies like Google attempt to target search results to meet individual preferences, users will be confined within a ‘filter bubble’ where they are no longer exposed to news or information that would challenge their worldview.

“This moves us very quickly to a world in which the internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see,” says Internet commentator Eli Pariser who has researched how search engines like Google and Yahoo News use personalisation filters to give different results to different people.

Personalisation technology uses special algorithms to customise or suggest content to individual users based on their age, gender, previous on-line activity and search preferences.

“We need the internet to connect us all together, to introduce us to new ideas, new people and different perspectives and it’s not going to do that if it leaves us all isolated in a web of one,” Eli Pariser adds.

Personalising content can be good for news organisations, but there is no guarantee that it’s good for readers, according to Mary Hamilton, deputy SEO editor for The Guardian.

“Publishers like the Mirror who are personalising content for readers on site are seeing increased engagement. Whether that’s at the expense of a more fully-informed readership is an open question, and a massive can of worms,” she said during a live Guardian online Q & A session late last year.