Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googling'?

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KnightExemplar
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Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googling'?

Postby KnightExemplar » Tue Mar 27, 2012 1:40 am UTC

So apparently, now that Google and Bing have been tracking our clicks (and Google has been tracking your emails, google+ stuff, youtube hits, and so forth)... these typical search engines now strongly tailor your search results for you. Even ignoring the privacy concerns around an AI that now has access to your email, social friend network, videos and so forth.. there is now worries that these sites push you into a "search bubble".

It is difficult enough to escape the bubble of your own bias. It takes self-awareness of your own bias to stop listening to radioshows or websites that you trust. It really does take courage to visit sites that contradict your worldview. However, as Google tracks more and more of your search history and search terms... it begins to automate confirmation bias at the search engine level. People already seek sites that agree to their philosophy... but now search engines exacerbate the issue as they attempt to only serve us sites that agree with us!

Anyway, that is the theory anyway. I was wondering if anyone wanted to do a test. Apparently, a major test is to google "guns". For me, the NRA is not in the top ten results, but apparently other people get hits on the NRA.

Some links:
http://www.thefilterbubble.com/ted-talk
http://www.amazon.com/The-Filter-Bubble ... roduct_top
http://dontbubble.us/
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Bharrata
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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby Bharrata » Tue Mar 27, 2012 1:56 am UTC

There is a great Ted Talk by Eli Pariser from a year ago about this phenomena and the possible consequences for us and the democratic project:

http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html

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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby careyhammer » Tue Mar 27, 2012 2:12 am UTC

You can still log off of Google and search anonymously, right? That would be interesting to compare logged in results to logged off results.
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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby omgryebread » Tue Mar 27, 2012 3:04 am UTC

My results for "guns" both logged in and out of google.com are the same. Both are different from google.ca results, both logged in and out (both of which are the same.) I've probably never searched anything remotely beyond guns (no promises on my little cousin who has an obsession with anything more deadly than a kitchen knife).

Results are pretty typical for a commercial item like a gun in the US. All shopping results except the wiki page on the bottom half. A large amount of shops in the area of course. (Including one called Christian Soldiers. Seriously, a shop selling devices designed to kill people called Christian Soldiers. Yeah, gun people freak me out.)

CA results are similiar, except it has a few Canadian retailers, and some results selling airsoft or paintball.


Results are slightly different with something my search history was more likely to have an impact on. Logged in and out results for "quetiapine" differ in order only though. Both gave me an NIH link as the first hit, which it didn't for google.ca.

Logging in had some results, but for me, not that interesting. Then again, I'm not that interesting, and that really extends to my search history.
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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby Wieke » Tue Mar 27, 2012 9:13 am UTC

careyhammer wrote:You can still log off of Google and search anonymously, right? That would be interesting to compare logged in results to logged off results.


You can, but google also uses cookies to customize search for those who don't have a google account. Deleting those (either by hand or using some kind of cookie plugin) should resolve that.

Some time ago I got a little worried about the personalized search functions, so I took steps to prevent it. Google has some help pages on the subject, just google "Turn off personal results" (sorry can't post links yet). Which basically amounts to disabling google's web history function. Afterwards I added an automatic cookie removal plugin to prevent the cookie based personalization of search.

If that isn't enough for you you could always switch to the duckduckgo search engine.

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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby D.B. » Tue Mar 27, 2012 12:08 pm UTC

Wieke wrote:If that isn't enough for you you could always switch to the duckduckgo search engine.

Quite off topic but I must second this. I switched my default search engine to duckduckgo a month or so back and am very impressed. Silly as it may sound, perhaps one of the most useful things they did was allow you to use other search engines via the duckduckgo search bar using their !bang notation. For example, if my chrome default search engine was Bing but I wanted to search for images of apples using google, I'd need to open a new tab, type google.com, hit return, click the 'images' tab at the top, type 'apples' and hit return again. Whereas with my default search engine set to duckduckgo all I need to do is open a tab and type '!gi apples', and it takes me straight there.

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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby Роберт » Tue Mar 27, 2012 5:50 pm UTC

Duckduckgo and google gave me the same results for Guns. Not NRA. Lots of people trying to sell me suppressors and silencers, though. :o
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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby EdgarJPublius » Fri Mar 30, 2012 4:20 am UTC

A silencer and a suppressor are the same thing >.>

I get pretty typical results, a handful of 'gun' retailers, wikipedia entry for 'gun' etc. logged in or logged out, the only difference I noticed was a re-ordering of the image results (first three images are the same, but the fourth one is a reference for 'red guns' training replicas while logged in, and a picture of a tippman paintball gun while logged out.)
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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby Proginoskes » Fri Mar 30, 2012 7:14 am UTC

"Is it time to stop googling?"

Hmmm ... Interesting question ... Let's google it ...

3,200 results for "It's time to stop googling"
No results for "it's not time to stop googling"

So, yes, according to Google and the Internet.

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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby piki » Fri Mar 30, 2012 1:53 pm UTC

Proginoskes wrote:"Is it time to stop googling?"

Hmmm ... Interesting question ... Let's google it ...

3,200 results for "It's time to stop googling"
No results for "it's not time to stop googling"

So, yes, according to Google and the Internet.

Sorry but you should've used "It's time to start googling" and this one gives 8630 results... :D

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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby KnightExemplar » Sat Mar 31, 2012 6:31 am UTC

Wieke wrote:
careyhammer wrote:You can still log off of Google and search anonymously, right? That would be interesting to compare logged in results to logged off results.


You can, but google also uses cookies to customize search for those who don't have a google account. Deleting those (either by hand or using some kind of cookie plugin) should resolve that.

Some time ago I got a little worried about the personalized search functions, so I took steps to prevent it. Google has some help pages on the subject, just google "Turn off personal results" (sorry can't post links yet). Which basically amounts to disabling google's web history function. Afterwards I added an automatic cookie removal plugin to prevent the cookie based personalization of search.

If that isn't enough for you you could always switch to the duckduckgo search engine.


Even then, google tracks your location. I'm not sure if it pulls your information from the GPS of your Android or IPhone (the technology exists, but I dunno if its implemented yet)... but location-based services is the new hot-thing for websites to take advantage of. Even on landlines, Google notices where your land line is connected to and gives specific geo-based advertizing.

Literally, different people will get different results based on where they are in America. As the TED talk mentioned, using google implies that we aren't "one big web" anymore. Different locations get slightly different results and result orderings.
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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby EdgarJPublius » Sat Mar 31, 2012 7:36 am UTC

Theoretically, Google (and other websites) can't get your GPS or coarse location without asking you for permission.
There are however, many ways to cheat the permissions and the information itself. And anyway, your IP is public information and generally gives your position away to at least the nearest metropolitan area.
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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby The Geoff » Mon Apr 09, 2012 11:15 pm UTC

Interesting question.

Google became as big as they did by providing relevant results - the ones people wanted. Not necessarily the ones that were most accurate (although that could happen by chance), but the ones people wanted. The most popular ones generally. So these days, with all the filters turned off, I'm guessing a search for "sex nurse" will return a a naughty lady quite high up, but the arguably more "useful" links to an STD clinic further down. I'm not going to try that because I'm at my girlfriend's dad's house and he's a computer security bod, so goodness knows what he's logging :oops: :shock:

So we've only got ourselves to blame, as a species without the filters or as a demographic with Google's personalisation algorithms running.

Maybe we need a search engine with a certain random factor built in - I'm calling dibs on it and naming it oolgeg (randomised google), it'll return a random cross-section of all the results, and in a random order. OK, off to read up on Google's API... :twisted:

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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby shishio45 » Mon Apr 09, 2012 11:25 pm UTC

I feel like you are begging the question by asking whether or not we should be using a search engine that creates a personalized search confirmation bias.

I feel like in order to know if this is bad/good one must ask why do we Google in the first place? To find new things? Or as some might point out, remember something you already knew.

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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby twcarlson » Tue Apr 10, 2012 1:04 pm UTC

There's a toggle switch on the search results page to switch between personalized results and generic results. In theory, everyone should see the same results then (possibly limited by your SafeSearch filter and the country from which you access the site).

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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby KestrelLowing » Tue May 29, 2012 5:33 pm UTC

I know this is an ancient thread, but I just wanted to say that I find this particularly useful - although I can see how the 'bubble' would be quite destructive if you were searching for something political, say.

However, there are a lot of terms that I google that could be taken different ways - for example, lets just take 'strain'. I'm a mechanical engineering major that isn't terribly active, so in likelihood if I was googling strain, I'd be looking for strain related to material properties. Other people would likely be looking for strained joints, etc. And while google does give me strained joints first, a few down the engineering type strain shows up - without being logged in, that site is lower on the list.

I've seen this for quite a few things where I google something that has a more common use one way, but the first thing that comes up is how it relates to engineering. In general, I find this very helpful.

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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby MartianInvader » Thu Jun 07, 2012 11:21 pm UTC

After thinking about this a bit, I've come to the conclusion that being in a "bubble" isn't really a consequence of getting personalized search results - it's a consequence of there only being a limited number of results we see. After all, there's only so much that fits on the first page of search engine results. If everyone sees the exact same 10 pages or whatever, that's still a "bubble", it's just that everyone in the world is in the same bubble, which will necessarily be more generic, and more whitewashed.

Looking at it this way, I think I prefer different people getting different results, as it keeps the world more interesting :) I think the most important thing is that you always be able to find what you're looking for if you're looking for a particular thing like "the New York Times article from April 15th about a man being eaten by a Yeti in Canada." But I think these things are always still accessible by just adding enough keywords to the search.
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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby EdgePenguin » Fri Jun 08, 2012 5:35 am UTC

Confirmation bias is a pain in the arse, but I don't think you can get rid of it. You can only mitigate its impact by having a debate where the people who don't agree with you will point out that you are full of it :wink:

When saturated with information (either real world sensory data, or the Internet) humans have to aggressively seek out something to focus on and disregard 99.99% of all the other information presented to us. This isn't nesseccarily wrong; bear in mind that humans are the only form of intelligence we know of, so it might well be that strong biases are the only way to deal with the environment. An entity whose thought processes are based on perfect, unbiased conclusions might be entirely unable to function intelligently.

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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby TrlstanC » Fri Jun 08, 2012 1:13 pm UTC

Well, if it's time to stop googling, then it's time to start doing what? Not finding the answer to questions I'm interested in? I think that being aware of the fact that google is personalizing search results based on my location and search history is useful information. Knowing that not everyone will see the same results as I do when we search for "guns" or "Syria" means that I can try to find a broader perspective for these subjects when I want to (or just search in an incognito tab). Of course, most of the time I probably won't want to, the results I get are the usually the kind of results I'm looking for.

But if I want to find out "what's the term for engineering the atmosphere" my options are pretty much: 1. search google, 2. ask someone who knows (maybe online) or 3. learn to be content with my ignorance.

I think the real issue that people have with personalized search results is that they think I should be seeing one kind of result, and I want to see a different kind, and google is slowly learning to show me more of the kind I want to see. This isn't an issue of technology, it's an issue of someone else wanting me to see different information than what I'm looking for.

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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby Nem » Wed Jun 13, 2012 2:20 am UTC

TrlstanC wrote:Well, if it's time to stop googling, then it's time to start doing what? Not finding the answer to questions I'm interested in?


Duck Duck Go - ing? They claim not to profile your search results.

TrlstanC wrote:I think the real issue that people have with personalized search results is that they think I should be seeing one kind of result, and I want to see a different kind, and google is slowly learning to show me more of the kind I want to see. This isn't an issue of technology, it's an issue of someone else wanting me to see different information than what I'm looking for.


Uhm, no. The issue I have with it is that people are going to see information they like, even if it's not what they were looking for. When I set out to find out about an issue I want to know the truth, not just what would make me happy in the short-term. That is to say, I have some degree of intellectual integrity. And I assume other people have too. The concern is they may be getting conned without realising it.

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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby piwakawaka42 » Sun Jun 24, 2012 3:30 am UTC

This is exactly why I started using duckduckgo. I also like their list of options to refine the search by, although I do miss the lack of autocomplete.
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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby kiklion » Tue Jun 26, 2012 8:05 pm UTC

This may be nit-picking but why would results for 'guns' be vastly different? If you are searching just that term you are probably either looking into the mechanical process that they use or are looking to purchase some. If you wanted to look into laws relating to guns would you not search for 'gun laws' or 'gun permits' or 'gun permits in <state>', or if you wanted to look into political positions you would search 'gun control'.

Perhaps it is just because looking things up on google is partly the number one thing you do in IT as your clients never cease to amaze you in ways they can break stuff, but I can't remember the last time I did a one word search.

Furthermore, part of me doesn't even understand the downside to a 'search bubble'. If I am googling a news story, I would hope that google brings up the news sites I frequent first because I have already decided that those news sites are valid and as unbiased as can be. If google can't find one on those sites, I find other publications instead. Or if I was looking up evolution, I would hope to find information about either pokemon or the theory of evolution. If I googled 'evolution' and received nothing but pages decrying it and arguing for creationism, that would be a search engine that did not help me search for what I want.

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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby xkcdfan » Tue Jun 26, 2012 10:37 pm UTC

kiklion wrote:Furthermore, part of me doesn't even understand the downside to a 'search bubble'. If I am googling a news story, I would hope that google brings up the news sites I frequent first because I have already decided that those news sites are valid and as unbiased as can be. If google can't find one on those sites, I find other publications instead. Or if I was looking up evolution, I would hope to find information about either pokemon or the theory of evolution. If I googled 'evolution' and received nothing but pages decrying it and arguing for creationism, that would be a search engine that did not help me search for what I want.

True, but consider the opposite -- Someone who googles 'evolution' and only gets results decrying it and arguing for creationism because that's what's in their 'search bubble'.

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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby KnightExemplar » Wed Jun 27, 2012 1:41 pm UTC

xkcdfan wrote:
kiklion wrote:Furthermore, part of me doesn't even understand the downside to a 'search bubble'. If I am googling a news story, I would hope that google brings up the news sites I frequent first because I have already decided that those news sites are valid and as unbiased as can be. If google can't find one on those sites, I find other publications instead. Or if I was looking up evolution, I would hope to find information about either pokemon or the theory of evolution. If I googled 'evolution' and received nothing but pages decrying it and arguing for creationism, that would be a search engine that did not help me search for what I want.

True, but consider the opposite -- Someone who googles 'evolution' and only gets results decrying it and arguing for creationism because that's what's in their 'search bubble'.


Precisely. Instead of bringing out conflicting points of view, Google is tailoring itself to bring views that already agree with you.

On a related note, what do you think about Macs getting targeted with 30% higher rates from Orbitz.com ? http://www.newstribune.com/news/2012/ju ... ple-users/

Orbitz thinks you are going to buy a more expensive room because you have a Mac. So they show you more expensive rooms. Needless to say, this creates a "divide" in the internet, we can no longer trust that Mac users are going to see the same things that PC users see online.
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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby Xeio » Thu Jun 28, 2012 5:46 am UTC

KnightExemplar wrote:Precisely. Instead of bringing out conflicting points of view, Google is tailoring itself to bring views that already agree with you.
While true, I'm not sure there's a meaningful difference in terms of results (I mean in changing perceptions, not search results). If you only ever click those search results anyway, why would you want your search engine to return the ones you're not going to read or click?

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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby EdgarJPublius » Thu Jun 28, 2012 7:03 am UTC

Well, you could be influenced just by reading the titles of some articles/links.

Also, in this case, there's a huge difference between 'never clicks' and 'clicks rarely' even if rarely is a statistically insignificant amount.
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Re: Google and Confirmation Bias. Is it time to stop 'googli

Postby MinotaurWarrior » Fri Jun 29, 2012 12:34 am UTC

KnightExemplar wrote:It is difficult enough to escape the bubble of your own bias. It takes self-awareness of your own bias to stop listening to radioshows or websites that you trust. It really does take courage to visit sites that contradict your worldview. However, as Google tracks more and more of your search history and search terms... it begins to automate confirmation bias at the search engine level. People already seek sites that agree to their philosophy... but now search engines exacerbate the issue as they attempt to only serve us sites that agree with us!

On the other hand, it only magnifies, not creates confirmation bias. If you already read the works of those you disagree with, google won't suddenly start hiding them from you.

I think this is very useful for certain things. It might, say, greatly improve the results of googling "funny" or "explanation of X suited for my level of knowledge", and the downside can be managed. On a personal level, I'm okay with it. The greater impact on society, however, may be worrisome.


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