Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who is watching the watchers?)

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Thank goodness for TED. Eli Pariser of MoveOn talks about the dangers of algorithmic curation. While I am loathe to insist that a company be forced to share or show their algorithmic wares, Pariser makes an impassioned plea to embue the equivalent of “journalistic ethics” so that the filter of the Google or Facebook algorithms so that what is displayed to us is both fair, but also open. As someone who makes his living helping companies structure their websites to be algorithmically favored, this is important stuff.
Currently Google controls about 75% of the search market. And they do an amazing job. I can think of no company that takes its duty more seriously. But in this age of click-stream analysis and personalization, we have ceded our critical thinking to Google. Google tells us what we want to see. We may, however, NEED to see something else. Pariser makes an important analog – today’s web is like the newspaper game in 1915. Every city had dozens of broadsheets, each espousing their own agenda. There was no sense of objective reportage. And while today we trust that Google is making fair choices, how can we know? Google’s algorithmic uber-curator is closed. And obviously, because Google wants to deliver fair and accurate results, they keep the algorithm closed – otherwise it would be endlessly gamed.
But, fundamentally, how can we know that Google is truly fair? And certainly we can’t (or shouldn’t) compel Google to turn over their secret sauce. (And if we did compel them to make the algorithm transparent, who should hold in escrow? Politicians? The government? Certainly not.) How can we see if Facebook is really telling us what is happening in our friends lives? Are news sites telling us everything? This is so impossibly complex and hairy that it is hard to comprehend how to insure that we do, in fact, get both what we want and what we need.
It is diversity that is the key. A healthy eco-system of information from multiple sources will create the confluence of so many filters and their variations that somewhere, between all of your uniquely personalized web experiences is something that amounts to an objective view. Below is Pariser’s TED talk. Damn, I hate it when I am forced to think about big issues that are monumentally important. This has just made my day significantly more complex. Thank goodness.

And here is a link (affiliate) to Eli’s new book that expands on these thoughts: The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You

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