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Free How Big Companies Are Secretly Shaping Your Internet Experience

How Big Companies Are Secretly Shaping Your Internet Experience

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Adnan Mujic

March 28, 2024


Your newsfeed, online friendships, shopping preferences, and even opinions – it seems they all form naturally, either due to objective goings on or through spontaneous interactions. That’s not entirely the case, however. It’s no far-fetched conspiracy theory to assert that a handful of influential companies have a greater hold over our perception and use of the internet than we’d like to believe.

This article demystifies some of their practices and offers actionable tips on helping you reclaim your freedom of choice.


The Almighty Algorithm

A paradox is plaguing modern netizens. On the one hand, the internet is becoming larger and more accessible by the day. On the other, it feels like we increasingly experience a narrower, more focused stream of content, ideas, and interactions.

It’s not just a gut feeling, either. It wasn’t that long ago that searching for something online meant visiting numerous websites and might have even required detective work. While they still exist, niche websites are giving way to a handful of well-funded, dominant alternatives that make choices easier yet limited.


Take Google’s absolute search engine dominance, for example. It doesn’t matter if a site advertises robot vacuum cleaners or offers insightful movie reviews – its creators need to play by Google’s rules if they want to hit the front page. That means you’re more likely to see content that ticks the right SEO boxes than results that fit your search most appropriately.

What constitutes good SEO practices can change on a whim as well. A website you found but didn’t bookmark last time might still exist but not appear in a future search if it didn’t adapt to Google’s revised guidelines.

Social Media

Many of us spend hours scrolling through social media posts each day, rarely taking the effort to search past our curated feeds. Social media companies heavily invest in and develop profiling algorithms that track what kind of content you engage with. They then serve similar recommendations, pushing other content into the background.

Conversely, social media companies excel at filling your discovery cues with content that aligns with causes they promote or trending topics. They also recommend new people to befriend & groups to join, fundamentally shaping your online interactions. Couple that with the above, and you get a fertile ground for fostering everything from local crocheting clubs to extremist organizations.

Online shopping

Finding the perfect product online might be fine art for you, but it’s data-driven science for digital storefronts. Every search you type in, basket you abandon, and purchase you make is one more data point useful for shaping a “personalized” shopping experience. Not convinced? Log out of your Amazon account or use a different browser and see how the recommendations change.


Annoying, pervasive, and suspiciously relevant, more often than not, ads have become a permanent fixture of the modern internet. They’ll pop up, interrupt a video you already paid to watch, or take up more space on most web pages than the content you actually want to consume.

Your choices are to either watch the ads various tracking algorithms think might interest you or general ones that won a spot by being the highest bidder. Unless you get an ad blocker, which advertisers don’t particularly like.

How Can You Regain Control?

Much of the influence big companies covertly exercise comes down to individuals’ behavior.

Social media is the perfect example. We use it to interact with people, like content, and voice our opinions on various topics. These activities might be casual time-wasters for users. They also contribute to enlarging everyone’s digital footprint and making it easier to exploit.

The resulting data is invaluable and useful to multiple parties. Such data helps companies whose sites you post it on refine their recommendations or enhance your customer experience. Third parties also benefit. They might need to resort to data scraping first. Even so, they can use what they gather to help develop marketing campaigns, conduct sentiment analysis, or bid for ads you’re likely to click on sites you frequent.

To be fair, laws like the CPPA or Europe’s GDPR are compelling such companies to bring their privacy policies up to a higher standard. Thanks to these legislative efforts, better standards need to be in place to protect users’ private data. They also have a say in how that data should be used and may opt out of its collection if they wish.

It’s a step in the right direction but far from the anonymity some users crave. If you’re among them, you may want to consider browsing with a VPN. Connecting to a VPN changes your IP address and shields your activities from snoops.

You get a different IP address each time you connect, so neither hackers nor advertisers who might otherwise track your movements have any pattern to exploit. Best of all, you don’t need to download any software and can use a VPN Chrome extension just as effectively instead.

Even more independence will require some adjustments. You’ll want to start reviewing privacy policies and stop visiting websites that use your data excessively. You’ll also want to take stock of your online accounts and delete ones you no longer use. You can’t alter the current digital landscape. However, you can consciously pursue unbiased sources and minimize the information you make available.



The internet has become a core part of daily life for many of us, so peeking behind the curtain and witnessing some of the practices big companies use in creating our experiences can be disconcerting. There is power in this knowledge, and being aware will only help you navigate the net with more confidence and maybe, just maybe, avoid the trap of thinking all that you read online is 100% true.