Pop Your Filter Bubble

What is the Filter Bubble?

The whole Internet is rapidly being personalized. Nobody can predict what kind of Internet — what kind of world — will emerge when everyone has a unique view of the world that nobody else can share.

Companies are aggressively pursuing personalization because it makes users happy. Personalization validates existing beliefs and prejudices. “Consuming information that conforms to our ideas of the world is easy and pleasurable,” according to Pariser. “Consuming information that challenges us to think in new ways or question our assumptions is frustrating and difficult.”

If you click to satisfy some passing curiosity, the algorithm might favor more such links in future. Because there are more links, you click more. You might even monitor your own activity and conclude that you must be especially interested. Personalization not only responds to personal interests. It shapes them.

Hiow do you pop your the Filter Bubble?

Now that you know what a filter bubble is, what are some ways to get outside the bubble?

Unfortunately, there are no magic bullets: The ad companies and personal data vendors that power and profit from personalization are far more technologically advanced than most of the tools for controlling your personal data.

That’s why The Filter Bubble calls on companies and governments to change the rules they operate by — without those changes, it’s simply not possible to escape targeting and personalization entirely.

You can’t get out of the bubble all the way, but these options can mitigate the effects of the filter bubble are described in Eli Pariser’s book “10 Ways to Pop Your Filter Bubble.”

Using technology to pop your filter bubble

1. Delete Your Search History

Your web history provides Google with a lot of information about you and is used to help determine what results Google gives you. To delete your web history:

  1. Go to Google’s homepage
  2. Click on your username in the top right corner
  3. Click on “Account Settings”
  4. Click on “edit” next to the “My Products” header
  5. Click “Remove Web History Permanently”

2. Delete your cookies

Cookies are one of the easiest ways for companies to track you from site to site. When you visit a site that uses cookies (almost all of them do these days), the site stores identifying data on your computer. With permission, other sites can then access that data and use it to change what you see. So if you want to see outside the filter bubble, erase your cookies regularly (Google provides helpful instructions here) — and disable the “tracking cookies” that are a common way for ad networks to learn about you:

  • In Chrome, go to Preferences > Under the Hood > Content Settings (You can also see all the cookies on your machine here.)
  • Firefox: Preferences > Privacy > Use custom settings for history
  • Safari: Preferences > Security
  • Internet Explorer: Internet options > Privacy

3. Turn off targeted ads

You can turn off targeted advertising at the browser level. Click on the links below to turn off targeted ads for a particular browser.

You can also tell many ad networks at once that you do not want targeted ads, on the Digital Advertising Alliance Consumer Choice page.

Unfortuantely, Ad companies have the choice to not abide by your requests to not be tracked. But most will, so make sure you give them the option to.

3. Tell Facebook to keep your data private

More than any other company, Facebook has made a massive amount of previously private data public. On a number of occasions, the company has changed data settings so that what was once private is now public (for example, the pages you Like were private but are now mandatorily public). And while these changes aren’t clear to users, they make it possible for companies like Rapleaf to build and sell profiles of you to whomever they want.

The main thing to remember is: Never tell Facebook anything you don’t want the whole internet (and world) to know about you.

To add additional protections, set your Facebook privacy settings all the way up. (Facebook explains how to do that here.) If you’re logged into Facebook, it may also transmit information about you to other websites — you can turn off Instant Personalization by following the steps here.

4. Hide your birthday

One of the biggest challenges for personal data vendors like Experian, Acxiom, and Rapleaf is figuring out who is who.

Say you’ve got the list of John Smith’s Facebook Likes, and you want to match that with, say, his voting records. How do you go about it, given that there are thousands of John Smiths out there? As it turns out, one of the most common “keys” for identifying particular people is your birthday. The number of John Smiths who share your birthday is far smaller — often there’s just one.

Keep your birthday to yourself when you can. Take it off your Facebook profile — or even just take off the year, which makes it much less useful. Revealing it rarely results in better services, but for data miners, it’s gold.

By the same token, always using “firstnamelastname” as a username also makes it easy for companies to match data about you from many different websites.

6. Go incognito

Most recent browsers have a “private browsing” or “incognito” mode that turns off history tracking, hides your cookies (and deletes the new ones when you close the window), and logs you out from sites like Google and Facebook.

By opening a page in this mode, you can more easily see how different your cookie-driven personalized version is.

However, since many companies (including Google) use data that doesn’t live on your computer to personalize, you may see different sites than a friend even in incognito mode.

7. Go anonymous

Sites like Torproject.org and Anonymizer.com allow you to run all of your browser traffic through their servers, effectively removing some of the signals that come through when you’re in incognito mode.

These are two browsers that let you browse anonymously:


  • DuckDuckGo.com: You might also choose to use DuckDuckgo.com, an alternative browser that does not track your history and is private, avoiding the filter bubble.
  • Torproject.org: Even in private browsing mode in standard search engines, results will still be tailored to you based on information such as your location, which search engines know because of your IP address. To stop this completely, you would have to go completely anonymous. Sites like torproject.org (which has downloadable software for free) and anonymizer.com (which has software that costs money) allow you to do this.

8. Depersonalize your browser

Every request to download a web page reveals a lot about how your computer is configured — and many of those configurations are unique to you.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) makes it easy to see how unique your settings are here.

And they give some good guidelines on how to make your settings harder to track here.

9. Lobby Google and Facebook

While both companies provide nominal tools to access your personal information and manipulate your filters, they mostly fall far short of being actually useful.

You can let them know by getting in touch here:

10. Tell your government that you care

Lobbyists for the big personalizers and data vendors are telling Congress the same thing: consumers don’t really care about this stuff, and it’s not worth seriously regulating.

If you’re in the US, you can write to Congress here:

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