Why The Personalized Internet Isn't Always Awesome

Search has become personal. Google uses your social media connections to determine how search results are delivered to you, as does Yahoo and Bing.

Websites store information about you every time you click. This can be great search for a pair of shoes one day, you might get delivered a 50% off coupon the next but can often lead to not so great situations.

Like this one.

On February 8, 2012, I was on Yahoo’s homepage when a headline caught my eye: “Mo. teen gets life with possible parole in killing.” Curious, I clicked to see what atrocity had transpired in the state where I live….

For the next month, I woke up to a barrage of horrifying stories that seemed to signal an epidemic of child torture in America.

I rarely clicked on any of these headlines, and at first, I didn’t notice the way they had crept into my Yahoo homepage — and into my mind — until their pervasiveness became impossible to ignore.

That’s when I realized: Yahoo had decided I liked child murder.

Sarah Kendzior’s article in The Atlantic shares her own experience with the personalization of the internet. It’s fascinating; she mentions the not-nearly-discussed-enough fact that it is currently safer to be a child in the United States than ever before yet common wisdom is that it’s more dangerous than ever, largely (I believe) because the news media HYPES. EVERY. STORY. with endless overkill.

It is possible to avoid this endless application of algorithms, but only if you have a serious case of OCD (not making light of OCD, promise). You’d need to delete your cookies after every web site you visit. You’d have to sign 100% out of every Google product.

In other words, it’s impossible.

I haven’t had anything as dramatic as the “yahoo murder story” happen to me, but I had a consulting client that worked with a popular online psychic, and after visiting their website, their ads followed me around the web for WEEKS (I realize this probably happens constantly, but in this case I happened to notice).

Have you experienced something like what happened to Ms. Kendzior? Share in the comments! And be sure to read her full piece. It’s fascinating.

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