Most people have no idea that their computers, their browser and more importantly their own online behaviour is now filtering all the information that they see.
Personalisation of content is becoming the big battleground between the Internet giants like Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Bing.
Every time you make a search in any of the search engines or click on content in sites like Facebook your activity is recorded and that data stored.
This stored data is subsequently used in choosing what to show you in subsequent search results.
If you have occasionally read articles on David Beckham for instance he is much more likely to show up in your search results again.
The web is essentially building a personality profile about you and generating results that fit that profile.
Advertisers call it re targeting. Ever noticed how if you have looked at a shopping site that ads for that very site will appear on all later sites. At first it would seem a waste of the advertisers money as you are already aware of their online shop, but many different independent researches show that 98% of people click off a site without buying, but are more likely to come back if constantly reminded by re targeted ads.
Online shopping is reaching new levels of psychological expertise backed by something not available till now . Online click stats which show what you really click on rather than what you think you like reading and browsing. This is a huge mine of information as to real behaviour rather than the aspirational or self image orientated behaviour patterns divulged in research questionnaires if old.
For the moment these search algorithms are fairly primitive and rely mostly on "people who liked this also liked that" but greater sophistication is coming.
There are big database companies like Acxiom and BlueSky who claim to have data on half a billion people and companies that are linking the information between mobile phones, tablets, laptops and browsers to make detailed personality predictions available to shopping sites like Amazon and advertisers. The banks are also getting in on the act so your spending patterns can be merged with all this other data.
The problem with this data is that it cannot truly represent the nuances of human characters but it does reveal consumer behaviour pretty accurately .
How this data will be used and the ethics involved present a challenge to programmers and society. Privacy and personalisation are not mutually exclusive but a careful balance will need to be found to avoid over or negative categorisation.
Another important aspect is that targeting people with what they want and not what they need to know is very dangerous. Creativity and a rounded general knowledge depend on a varied diet of information beyond the latest celebrity fad that is an easy read. It will always be easier to read a little gossip after a hard day than about the troubles in Syria, but our future depends on our being well informed about issues that affect us globally.
Whilst we have news outlets that eschew the easy read they are having a harder time raising revenue whilst though that pursue clicks and reads in high numbers are proliferating and winning the financial battle by a long chalk.
For the moment our news channels are becoming more repetitive feeding us news that does not challenge or disturb our current views or opinions. As Eli Pariser points out in his book of the same name we risk ending up in "The Filter Bubble" that reinforces our prejudices and does not inform in any meaningful way.
The Internet started as a brilliant source of free information but is now in a period of vast change with companies battling for control.
The ethos of the company or companies that emerge victorious will be very important to our future.