Saturday, April 14, 2012

Perfectly personalized news service could pose a grave danger

As things stand today, some in the public are able to see a bias in news reporting. Some among the public know what Western media hides and what it distorts, although most of the public is oblivious to these facts. That's because news isn't too personalized today [at least in terms of news sources]. For example, a non-customized Google News shows the same story from a variety of publishers [NYT, CNN, RT, etc.], so a user is able to see different interpretations, different perspectives [and different sides] for the same story.

Imagine a world in which Google News is perfectly personalized. And imagine that a particular user John has told Google News that his preferred news sources are only these: CNN, BBC, NYT, WSJ, FT, Economist, ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, AP, AFP, and Reuters [basically all Western news companies].

Imagine that Google News, which has perfectly personalized his news experience, shows him stories only from these sources. What will happen? John will see only those stories which are reported by his chosen outlets. Worse, he will only see their perspective of the stories. John won't get to know that there are other, non-reported stories, hidden facts, etc., because he only consumes Google News and it's perfectly personalized. What is troubling is that John might not even be aware that by personalizing his Google News experience, he has actually hidden from his view the other side of the story.

Do we expect John to be smart enough to know in the first place that he should be including channels such as RT, Press TV, CCTV, etc., in his basket? We should not expect this, because we know well how mired in Western media the Western public is.

What if Google, algorithmically or secretly, chooses to automatically bias its Google News service to exclusively or predominantly promote stories from Western news outlets, in the name of personalization? We don't want such a over-personalized future, when the relative freedom of today is already so costly to nations that aren't allies of the West.

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