Junkfood Science: Information firewall?

June 29, 2007

Information firewall?

He who controls access to information controls “the truth.”

Two extraordinary developments have occurred this week that could make it difficult for those who use the internet regularly — and that’s most of us — to learn anything but what certain interests want us to know. Equally disturbing, is the information they’re gathering on us.

This week brought news that Google was racing “to accumulate the most comprehensive database of individual information” on users. As the Financial Times reported, these efforts are being made to enable industry to target us with personalized advertisements and suggest products and services based on the personal information it gathers on us. Its proposed $3.1 billion takeover of DoubleClick sparked concerns it will lead to an erosion of online privacy. But that could be the least of our worries....

We’ve already examined that much of the health “news” we get on television, radio and in print is little more than the latest form of canned, scripted advertising from various interests. We’ve learned to view documentaries with an equally critical eye, as most of them are also just carefully-crafted marketing pieces. [Readers here are way ahead of the pack when it comes to that.]

But many of us believe the internet is different. When we research for news and information online, we believe that the hits we get are genuine and objective reflections of the relevance to our search terms. We would be wrong.

Search engines have inordinate abilities to censor information by simply making it invisible to searches. It is not uncommon for key documents and papers that don’t support government initiatives or special interest agendas to be buried and take extraordinary effort to hunt down, or to disappear from the internet altogether, something anyone who’s been researching for any length of time quickly discovers. [It explains why us “technological dinosaurs” save things on private hard drives and paper files.]

But it appears that finding objective information about our health, drugs or treatments could soon be a thing of the past. Google has just announced that it has created a “Google Health Advisory Council.” In its media announcement, it said:

We want to help users make more empowered and informed healthcare decisions, and have been steadily developing our ability to make our search results more medically relevant and more helpful to users.

Screening out “irrelevant” and “unhelpful” information? That sounds like a euphemism for censorship. Look at every name on their new prestigious advisory panel and the interests they represent. Most will be familiar to Junkfood Science readers, as we've examined the soundness of their consumer information — RAND Corp., the Cleveland Clinic, the AMA, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, AARP, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., California HealthCare Foundation, and others.

Despite all of the flaws and utter garbage on the net, it’s still been the primary way for most people to break through the media groupthink to learn other viewpoints and sounder information. This development could be the beginnings of the world's biggest internet information firewall.

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