Google and the “Filter Bubble”

Date: 11 Feb 2019 Category : | Source: Who Decides What Websites You Visit? | Author: Graham Penrose

Recently there’s been a lot of justified outrage over “fake news” and the fact that many people are living in an echo chamber online.

Companies like Google use your profile to filter the results they show you, based on what they think you are most likely to click on. This is commonly known as the “Filter Bubble”.

It is a form of corporate censorship that can be used to influence public opinion (even unintentionally), such as election outcomes and other political issues.

DuckDuckGo do not think someone else should decide what information you get to see. At DuckDuckGo, they don’t put you in the “Filter Bubble.”

Want to learn more about how you are being censored? Check out the TED talk by Eli Parsier.

Measuring the “Filter Bubble”: How Google is influencing what you click

Over the years, there has been considerable discussion of Google’s “filter bubble” problem. Put simply, it’s the manipulation of your search results based on your personal data. In practice this means links are moved up or down or added to your Google search results, necessitating the filtering of other search results altogether.

These editorialized results are informed by the personal information Google has on you (like your search, browsing, and purchase history), and puts you in a bubble based on what Google’s algorithms think you’re most likely to click on.

Google has claimed to have taken steps to reduce its filter bubble problem, but research by DuckDuckGo reveals a very different story. Based on a study of individuals entering identical search terms at the same time, they found that:

  1. Most participants saw results unique to them. These discrepancies could not be explained by changes in location, time, by being logged in to Google, or by Google testing algorithm changes to a small subset of users.
  2. On the first page of search results, Google included links for some participants that it did not include for others, even when logged out and in private browsing mode.
  3. Results within the news and videos infoboxes also varied significantly. Even though people searched at the same time, people were shown different sources, even after accounting for location.
  4. Private browsing mode and being logged out of Google offered very little filter bubble protection. These tactics simply do not provide the anonymity most people expect. In fact, it’s simply not possible to use Google search and avoid its filter bubble.

For more reading on this research check out this study.

[Content in certain sections courtesy of and copyright Dax the Duck, Mascot – DuckDuckGo]

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