Google may be influencing your online behavior by altering search results

Google may be influencing your online behavior by altering search results
It's no secret that Google is creating highly customized data profiles for every user, by keeping track of their web searches, location, and other parameters that are then used to create a digital fingerprint of sorts, which is unique for every user. The company recently came under fire over its questionable location tracking practices with an Associated Press report shedding light on how Google tracks user location even with the "Location History" feature turned off.

Unfortunately, this may also be a trend in other Google services, specifically Search, a new study by Google competitor DuckDuckGo suggests. What's more, the findings also show that Google may be using the collected data to surface customized search results, even when the user is logged out of their Google account or using Incognito mode.

The study, titled Measuring the "Filter Bubble": How Google is influencing what you click, was conducted in June of this year, during the midterm elections, with the goal of finding out whether Google is filtering the information on a per-user basis, depending on their past behavior online. In other words, whether Google is simply showing people what they want to see.

As The Verge notes, DuckDuckGo is obviously a biased source, being a major Google competitor that takes pride in its handling of user data, but the findings of the study are still worth a closer look.


Diagram showing how search result layouts vary between users for identical searches

The study found that different participants will see different results when searching for terms like "gun control" and "immigration." What's more, almost identical results appeared to respective participants, even when they were logged out of their Google accounts or using the browser's Incognito mode. This suggests that Google is tracking and targeting users with customized information at all times.

The study found that there were significant discrepancies between what news sources were shown to different users for identical searches, and how identical items were positioned in the results. You may not think that the same page being two or three positions lower in a certain search may not be a big deal, but studies have consistently shown that people are most likely to interract with the top three Google search results the vast majority of the time. For example, significant variations in the layout of news articles and videos were discovered for search terms like "vaccinations."

Google has gone on record to state that personalization is done a "small fraction" of search queries, in order to determine a better context for the search. The company, however, did confirm whether this sort of personalization is also applied to Incognito searches.


Diagram showing significant variations between search results for different users

“We saw that when randomly comparing people’s private modes to each other, there was more than double the variation than when comparing someone’s private mode to their normal mode,” the study claims. The data suggests that there is negligible difference in search results for the same user, independent of whether they are logged in with a Google account or using Incognito browsing mode, while results for identical searches vary three to five times between different users.

Google claims that all of its elaborate data collection is only so it can serve users better. Although the custom-tailored experiences that Google services offer are often times very useful, significantly altering web search results, based on who is doing the search, may be a step in the wrong direction. Furthermore, most users are in the dark as to how exactly all of this is done. With layers of AI-powered algorithms, constantly changing and shaping our digital fingerprints, it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell to what extent our current actions online are going to influence our web searches tomorrow.

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42 Comments

1. cncrim

Posts: 1588; Member since: Aug 15, 2011

Yes they do, however i speak with my wallet. Will not buy thing i dont need.

5. piyath

Posts: 2445; Member since: Mar 23, 2012

Google is the worst of them all liberal propaganda companies in US. They manipulate users by collecting their data illegally and try to gain some extra votes to the democrat party. This behavior should be stopped right away and put some tough regulations to avoid things like this happening further.

6. TheOracle1

Posts: 2331; Member since: May 04, 2015

I guess you get all your news from Breitbart, Infowars and Fox. How many inbred children have you and your sister produced Bubba Piyath? Back on topic, I've been experimenting with Duckduckgo and will probably migrate soon.

10. fatTony

Posts: 115; Member since: Dec 20, 2012

I've stopped using Chrome and signed out of Gmail for this reason. I don't like their method of collection so I'm migrating to Duckduckgo as well. Too bad I prefer Android.

20. Vokilam

Posts: 1273; Member since: Mar 15, 2018

For iOS users: Settings>Safari> Search engine> DuckDuckGo Also: “Siri, search DuckDuckGo for________.”

7. fatTony

Posts: 115; Member since: Dec 20, 2012

That's a very bold claim. Got anything to substantiate it?

9. Vokilam

Posts: 1273; Member since: Mar 15, 2018

Google is extremely biased. I’ve noticed this long ago. Well so is Apple. But check out https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2018/09/12/leaked-video-google-leaderships-dismayed-reaction-to-trump-election/

11. Rampage_Taco

Posts: 1079; Member since: Jan 17, 2017

"Google is extremely biased" *proceeds to share link to breitbart*

14. Vokilam

Posts: 1273; Member since: Mar 15, 2018

Because unlike Google, this site offers uncut version of the video. Been doing searches without using google engine. Found more stuff like this:https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2016-06-22/google-is-the-worlds-biggest-censor-and-its-power-must-be-regulated You guys are laughing saying Apple makes decisions for its users - but google is doing the same to us.

16. Blazers

Posts: 751; Member since: Dec 05, 2011

Yes you're right. Back in 2016 when Hillary collapsed and had to be dragged back into her SUV, the liberal media showed an edited version that made it look not so bad.

22. TheOracle1

Posts: 2331; Member since: May 04, 2015

Yeah. Just like they covered up the child trafficking/paedophile ring in the basement of the pizzeria and Obama's birth certificate. Both of you are morons. If you hadn't dropped out of high school you would have learned to corroborate (that's double-check in your trailer park lingo) everything you read on the internet.

24. 14545

Posts: 1835; Member since: Nov 22, 2011

Cute, as always the leftist cult can't apply basic logic to any circumstance, but they love to point out hypocrisy when someone brings up biology..... No everyone who voted for trump is an "uneducated trailer park dweller." but you have proven you do actually have an iq less than your age. Note again, for thr record, I didn't vote trump and don't care for the guy. (other than his one signature accomplishment of slightly lowering my taxes.) but maybe you should take your own advice and not believe everything you read on the internet.

26. TheOracle1

Posts: 2331; Member since: May 04, 2015

Reading your post it seems you didn't pass high school English either.

27. 14545

Posts: 1835; Member since: Nov 22, 2011

Lol. Yeah, I don't have a BSME.... or anything. Idiot. Let's see you pass basic physics, much less heat transfer, tool.

28. 14545

Posts: 1835; Member since: Nov 22, 2011

It's always hilarious to me that mouth breathing dildos like you are the first to cast a stone about alleged intellect, when you (at best) might have some urinalism degree. I don't GAS if my grammar isn't the best, I actually build products that drive the world. But I'm certain you know far more than I ever will......

31. TheOracle1

Posts: 2331; Member since: May 04, 2015

English (any language) and mathematics are the two fundamental tools everyone needs to get by in life. Generally speaking you can judge someone's intellect and level of education by their proficiency in either or both. You can also judge their character and insecurities by the way they have to promote their intelligence on phone forums. There's an old saying about keeping your mouth shut so you don't confirm your stupidity. Republicans, Trump and you should heed that advice.

32. 14545

Posts: 1835; Member since: Nov 22, 2011

"There's an old saying about keeping your mouth shut so you don't confirm your stupidity. Republicans, Trump and you should heed that advice." Mouthbreather whines about republicans while ignoring their own parties sins...... Yeah, you should really take your own advice...

33. 14545

Posts: 1835; Member since: Nov 22, 2011

Heck, as I have stated before. I'm not dumb enough to pull for a "party". Clearly anyone who feels the need to make generalizations isn't smart enough to continue sucking air. Then when someone points how the statistical irrelevance of your claims you try to attack their education. Lastly, when all else fails and you have been repeatedly proven wrong then you just go straight to general insults. That, sir, is a proven sign of lacking intellect. But I'm certain you will come back with some other generalization about how "all of the right, including yourself, are just KKK members and woman haters" without even realizing I don't vote and I don't like the "right" either. Goddamn anarchists don't play partisan politics, tool.

34. TheOracle1

Posts: 2331; Member since: May 04, 2015

Awwww, have I hurt your feelings? ;-))

35. 14545

Posts: 1835; Member since: Nov 22, 2011

No, I read right through morons like you who are physically incapable of formulating a coherent argument or logic themselves. They only have the capabilites to whine about partisan politics and what their sides talking points are. congrats on nailing my prediction.

40. TheOracle1

Posts: 2331; Member since: May 04, 2015

Sounds to me like I hurt your feelings.

42. 14545

Posts: 1835; Member since: Nov 22, 2011

I'm certain a functional re---- will be the first to know when they hurt my feelings..... But hey, you have proven to be quite the Nostradamus, so it is completely unsurprising you feel that way....

37. Vokilam

Posts: 1273; Member since: Mar 15, 2018

Oracle, your choice of arguments are futile at best due to lack of anything rational and just name calling and insults. Go find your safe space where trump is not your president.

39. TheOracle1

Posts: 2331; Member since: May 04, 2015

That's ironic coming from someone who reads and cites Breitbart as a credible source. Rational and Breitbart are mutually exclusive terms.

43. 14545

Posts: 1835; Member since: Nov 22, 2011

Ironic coming from someone who didn't actually read what Vokilam posted. He did not claim to read Brietbart, he specifically stated the other sites censor the video. But hey, you are smarter than the rest of us "unedumactated trailer dwellers".

44. TheOracle1

Posts: 2331; Member since: May 04, 2015

Do you know the meaning of the word "cite"?

3. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3147; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

The only way to be sure of "some" anonymity is to bypass sign-in at initial launch and sideload a 3rd party browser. That eliminates iOS users entirely. That means no apps from the Play Store which means you might as well have a Windows Phone.

4. RebelwithoutaClue unregistered

Wow, Google uses personalised search, what a surprise....

12. Rampage_Taco

Posts: 1079; Member since: Jan 17, 2017

Right? how dare they give me results I'd be more interested in reading, those monsters, I'd much rather search the endless pages of results

25. 14545

Posts: 1835; Member since: Nov 22, 2011

I'm pretty sure the point of the article, and study, was to show that it's not always just personalized results, as it can be used to away public opinion. But hey, you're right. Nothing to worry about......

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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