Search engines in particular give the impression that users have the freedom to access any link on any topic they wish, but in reality, undercut the openness and inclusiveness of both the old and new public spheres. A good metaphor for a user of a search engine is a customer at a bookstore (Hesmondalgh 219). Although the selection of material seems vast and endless to the customer, the titles were carefully chosen among billions to be the lucky few to fit on the finite shelf space. It is the owners of the bookstore that determine what titles the customer can have access to. Search engines operate in the same way in that pages that have a higher page rank or are lucky enough to be visited by search engine spiders will appear higher on search results. Content available to the public is directly affected by commercial interests, and this is evident when David Hesmondalgh says that search engines are increasingly allowing web owners to pay for high rankings. This system guarantees that the most likely information to reach the public is that which is privileged by having a lot of money, time, or attention spent on it. These privileges are a direct violation of the disregard for status and rank that is ideal in the public sphere.
Users may feel that the internet’s open architecture provides them with limitless content, but like the customer wandering in the bookstore, all his possible choices of reading material have been preselected and predefined by some higher authority. Additionally, marketers and advertising firms are constantly tracking user activity online in the hopes of formulating audience constructions and extrapolating the data to some means of making money. These audience definitions lead to the visibility of some search results and not others, as well as the “production of certain kinds of culture – and not others” (Turow 104). So not only is the customer limited in what he has access to, but he is also being watched and recorded as a statistic that will ultimately shape culture production. Unlike the ideal democratic public sphere, power does not lie with the people, but with some higher authority.