Censorship just got a lot more personal

29 Jun

If the internet is our source of information, what happens when the information is tailored just for us?

Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out information that confirms our existing worldview – evidence that we are right. It makes us comfortable and happy and, in turn, reinforces the desire to search for more similar information.

A couple of days ago the news broke that Facebook has been manipulating our emotions in an enormous randomised controlled trial, showing that they can indeed deliberately make us more positive (or negative), based on the items they choose to include in our newsfeed. Aside from some very creepy implications about what we do and do not consent to when we make our data available on the internet, this has some interesting (read: terrifying) implications for social engineering.

I don’t know about you but a huge amount of the information I access is through links suggested by friends and like-minded netizens that post on social media sites. Much of the rest is sourced through google searches. It made me realise that if these service providers are keeping my information and recording my preferences, likes and dislikes, and the kind of information that improves or depressed my mood, they are capable of censoring the information I access to keep me happy.

I get the heeby-jeebies thinking about this.

Imagine a world where we never see anything that perturbs us, that makes us uncomfortable. Where news items we don’t want to know about are simply invisible to us. Where organisations get to decide what you know based on whether it will upset you or not. Where the status quo is easy to maintain on behalf of the mega-corporations that are profiting from it, because no one knows any better.

That is some Orwellian shit. (Ok, maybe more Huxley than Orwell.)

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