Person Using Google Search Engine on a Laptop Computer
18 Dec 2018 13:00

Study Claims Google Search Results Are Manipulated According to Your Personal Data

Privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo conducted the study which claims users are subject to a ‘filter bubble’

Charlotte Darrell
By Charlotte DarrellStaff Writer

Privacy-centric search engine DuckDuckGo has published the results of its 2018 study into the effects of the Google ‘filter bubble’, which concludes that search results for identical terms vary significantly from user to user.

The research seems to prove the existence and extensive influence of the ‘filter bubble’, which DuckDuckGo defines as ‘the manipulation of your search results based on your personal data’.

According to it, links displayed in the search results are moved up or down, and even added or take away depending on the personal information Google has on a user.

The study showed that the Google search results of 87 people across the US differed considerably despite using the same search terms at the same time, using the same methods.

Participants searched politically-charged terms such as ‘gun control’ and ‘immigration’ while logged out of Google and using private browsing mode. Search results varied from user to user, showing that these search methods don’t offer a great deal of protection against the ‘bubble’.

It wasn’t just the links displayed on the first page of search results that differed but also the news and videos infoboxes too.

DuckDuckGo’s 2018 study follows its previous research in 2012 that found the filter bubble to have ‘significantly influenced the 2012 U.S. presidential election’.

According to the study, Google inserted tens of millions of more links for Barack Obama than for candidate Mitt Romney in the runup to the elections.

Following the 2016 US presidential election, the rival search engine, which aims to set ‘the new standard of trust online’, decided that more research into the filter bubble’s political influence was necessary.

In August of this year, President Trump accused Google of rigging news story search results to show negative stories about him and other conservatives.

The online-search powerhouse denied any alleged political bias in its system, and a CNBC reporter who sat in on an internal meeting at Google claimed that the company ‘doesn’t personalize most of its search rankings’.

In response to DuckDuckGo’s results, Google’s public liaison of search Danny Sullivan tweeted: “Over the years, a myth has developed that Google Search personalizes so much that for the same query, different people might get significantly different results from each other. This isn’t the case,

“So, why might two different people searching for the same thing see results that are different? That’s often due to non-personalized reasons: location, language settings, platform & the dynamic nature of search,” he added. You can read the full Twitter thread here.