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A Check on my Google Love


Post from the 2011 Conference in Boston

by Stefan Lanfer, Barr Foundation

The day’s opening session by Eli Pariser was a check on my Google love. I mean what’s not to love about a company whose mantra is Do No Evil?   I’d heard before of echo chambers and the general bemoaning of these times in which we are getting our news more and more from people who think just like us, getting what Pariser called the “dopamine hit” of having our preconceived notions reinforced. But surely not do-no-evil Google, right? Isn’t that the objective source? Just an organizer of info? Democratizing information? Maybe not.

Pariser flashed two different Google searches of the word “Egypt” during its  revolution at the beginning of this year – two searches on the same word at the same time by two different friends. One set of results was all about Arab Spring and breaking news from Tahrir square. The other a bunch of ads and travel sites and pyramids.

What?

Google’s algorithm aparently tailored to me more than I know – delivering results based on what I’ve clicked in the past.

A little sobering. And a provocative example of Kranzberg’s Law that “technology is not good or evil, but neither is it neutral.”

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