The paper builds on research lead by Dr Nishanth Sastry in 2018, which tracked the creation of filter bubbles during the 2016 US election. That research found that hyper-partisan news webpages on the left and right created their own internal ecosystems, or filter bubbles, by linking to each other on their websites and social media profiles. These bubbles were much discussed in the wake of Donald Trump’s electoral victory, with fake and partisan news shared unchecked on social media platforms, garnering ever increasing partisan audiences.
This research built on those findings, discovering that of the 667 websites initially created in the database, 111 were now inactive. The implications suggest that some of those hyper-partisan news websites could have been created to push politicised messaging around the 2016 US election, a phenomena that could recur in the upcoming election.
Sagar Joglekar said: 'In today's age, you are the product if you are not paying anything to access the information on the web. The value you give back to the companies is in the form of your likes, dislikes, and behavioural patterns, so being tracked could be seen as an expected outcome.'
'What is most surprising is the reflection of political polarising in how ad technology companies view you as a product, with the advertising system adapting to increasingly polar political behaviour. In the end, the goal is to earn as many ad clicks as possible.'
How can I hide?
Unfortunately, it’s complicated.
Dr Nishanth Sastry suggested that normal web users need to be more aware of those partisan websites which track their users more significantly than general websites. However, he argues that to combat the issue of internet privacy, systemic change is required.
'The issue can’t be solved by normal web users practicing internet hygiene – to avoid creating an online persona they’d have to delete their cookies after every session which just isn’t practical. Even using incognito mode doesn’t remove some kinds of sophisticated cookies. There’s a need for change to make sure people are aware of the ways their data is being collected and monetised.'