Safer Internet Day: I dodged filter bubbles

 (Photo: Andrea Nanni)
Imagine you enter a large bookshop to find specific information. You voice your request and immediately books and magazines start shifting. Within seconds the shelves offer a personalized selection based on your interests and characteristics. Sounds strange?

This is exactly what happens when you enter a search request into Google. This might be convenient because what is offered probably suits your demands quite well. But what if you realize that there are other interesting books stocked in a warehouse out of your reach? Or when you find out that your friend, who made an identical request, received a different selection of books?

Google generates personalized search results based on previous search requests, current location and personal data gathered by tracking cookies. Consequently, a filter bubble is created around you: A unique universe of information that is individual, invisible and involuntary (Google is not the only service that can be accused of creating a filter bubble. Facebook, Amazon, CNN, Yahoo, MSN and others also generate personalized content, for examples see Eli Pariser’s TEDtalk or book: The Filter Bubble). What is wrong with a filter bubble? Filter bubbles can be harmful because they skew users’ perception of the world and narrow their scope.

Since today is Safer Internet Day, I wanted to make my own internet behavior a bit safer and started with my search engine use. Instead of automatically using Google, I used DuckDuckGo today. This is a search engine that enables you to dodge the filter bubble. It claims to protect your privacy and to offer better search results without a filter bubble (Grossman). DuckDuckGo offers you a greater level of autonomy and control over your search results than Google does. While DuckDuckGo is referred to as a promising alternative for Google, it does not offer the same amount of options. It is a basic search engine limited to online pages, images, videos and since recently, products.

While I really do appreciate the idea that I retrieve ‘neutral’ search results and it actually works quite good, I did end up using Google when I needed to look up a location on Google Maps and when I needed academic articles today.

In the impoverished ‘DuckDuckGo’ book stall everyone is treated exactly the same, which is a refreshing experience. To maintain my ‘safer internet’-resolutions I set up DuckDuckGo as my landing page and aim to use it as a starting point from now on.

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