The Dangers of
Personalised Search
Friends of Search
20 February 2014
Barry Adams
Vulgar self-promotional slide
Barry Adams is…
 Digital Director at multi-award winning digital agency

The Tomorrow Lab i...
Google’s Business Model
AdWords launched in Oct 2000
90% of Google’s revenue is from advertising;
Not advertising

Advertising
Personalised Search
What is Personalised Search?

“Search results that vary based on the searcher’s profile and
past behaviour.”
Elements of Personalised Search
• Location
• Search history
• Browsing history

• Social circles
• Known interests
Smart Personalisation
Not-so-smart Personalisation
Dumb Personalisation
Creepy Personalisation
But all that is the stuff we notice….

What about the personalisation we don’t see?
October 2012 research from DuckDuckGo: http://vimeo.com/51181384
Political bias >> SERP bias
Query: ‘climate change’;
• The Right-wing voter will see climate change denialist SERPs
• The ...
Google Maps Personalisation
Personalised Maps
“In Google's world, public space is just something that stands
between your house and the well-reviewed ...
What’s next, a Personalised World?
Why is this
a bad thing?
The Filter Bubble
• Google will show you things it knows you like;
 Your SERPs will be full of sites you visit regularly....
Why wouldn’t you want that?
• Because you’ll rarely be exposed to something new and
unexpected.

• It erodes the commonali...
Why is it dangerous?
• People get things wrong all the time.
• But if you’re never exposed to alternative viewpoints, you’...
Technology can imprison us
• Technology does not automatically liberate us;
 If left unchecked, technology can serve to c...
Silicon Valley ≠ the Real World
Corporate campuses like the Googleplex are isolated communes
of geek productivity.
What can you do?
Embrace doubt

“The trouble with the world is that the
stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are
full of doubt.”
- Bertr...
Enjoy serendipity

“I find that a great part of the information I
have was acquired by looking up something
and finding so...
Reject Google’s Filter Bubble
Personalised search in Google is unavoidable. Thanks to Google+
you are logged in all the ti...
Reject an advertising-mediated
worldview
• Use Amazon when logged out.
• Install AdBlock Plus.
• Read different newspapers...
What’s next?
What’s next for Google?
• Microphones in every ceiling
• Microchips in our brains
• Self-driving cars

• Balloons over Afr...
Thank you.
@badams
barry@thetomorrowlab.com
http://www.barryadams.co.uk
The Dangers of Personalised Search
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The Dangers of Personalised Search

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Slides from my talk at the Friends of Search 2014 conference, where I spoke about the hazards of increasingly personalised online experiences, causing us to view the world through advertising-biased filters.

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The Dangers of Personalised Search

  1. 1. The Dangers of Personalised Search Friends of Search 20 February 2014 Barry Adams
  2. 2. Vulgar self-promotional slide Barry Adams is…  Digital Director at multi-award winning digital agency The Tomorrow Lab in Belfast (formerly known as Pierce Communications)  Dutch (yes, really)  SEO polemicist  Twitter ranter @badams  Editor & blogger for award-winning blog StateofDigital.com  Also blogs at award-nominated BarryAdams.co.uk
  3. 3. Google’s Business Model
  4. 4. AdWords launched in Oct 2000 90% of Google’s revenue is from advertising; Not advertising Advertising
  5. 5. Personalised Search
  6. 6. What is Personalised Search? “Search results that vary based on the searcher’s profile and past behaviour.”
  7. 7. Elements of Personalised Search • Location • Search history • Browsing history • Social circles • Known interests
  8. 8. Smart Personalisation
  9. 9. Not-so-smart Personalisation
  10. 10. Dumb Personalisation
  11. 11. Creepy Personalisation
  12. 12. But all that is the stuff we notice…. What about the personalisation we don’t see?
  13. 13. October 2012 research from DuckDuckGo: http://vimeo.com/51181384
  14. 14. Political bias >> SERP bias Query: ‘climate change’; • The Right-wing voter will see climate change denialist SERPs • The Left-wing voter will see climate science SERPs Which are the ‘best’ results?
  15. 15. Google Maps Personalisation
  16. 16. Personalised Maps “In Google's world, public space is just something that stands between your house and the well-reviewed restaurant that you are dying to get to.” - Evgeny Morozov Source: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/05/google_maps_personal ization_will_hurt_public_space_and_engagement.html
  17. 17. What’s next, a Personalised World?
  18. 18. Why is this a bad thing?
  19. 19. The Filter Bubble • Google will show you things it knows you like;  Your SERPs will be full of sites you visit regularly.  Your news will be from the sites whose perspectives & viewpoints you agree with.  Your maps will be full of places you & your friends have visited before.
  20. 20. Why wouldn’t you want that? • Because you’ll rarely be exposed to something new and unexpected. • It erodes the commonalities between all people. • Our worldviews will become increasingly polarised, isolated, and self-perpetuating.
  21. 21. Why is it dangerous? • People get things wrong all the time. • But if you’re never exposed to alternative viewpoints, you’ll never know when you’re wrong. • Result: unshakable convictions that are (probably) based on flawed information.
  22. 22. Technology can imprison us • Technology does not automatically liberate us;  If left unchecked, technology can serve to contain us • New technology is not released in a vacuum;  Existing corporate & government structures will capitalise on and subvert the Next Big Thing
  23. 23. Silicon Valley ≠ the Real World Corporate campuses like the Googleplex are isolated communes of geek productivity.
  24. 24. What can you do?
  25. 25. Embrace doubt “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” - Bertrand Russell
  26. 26. Enjoy serendipity “I find that a great part of the information I have was acquired by looking up something and finding something else on the way.” - Franklin Pierce Adams
  27. 27. Reject Google’s Filter Bubble Personalised search in Google is unavoidable. Thanks to Google+ you are logged in all the time, so Google tracks you everywhere.  Stop using Google.  Seriously. Stop it. Alternatives: DuckDuckGo Blekko Yandex
  28. 28. Reject an advertising-mediated worldview • Use Amazon when logged out. • Install AdBlock Plus. • Read different newspapers. (Just for the sake of all that is good in this world, NOT the Daily Mail!) • Explore stuff online! • Read Eli Pariser’s book ‘The Filter Bubble’.
  29. 29. What’s next?
  30. 30. What’s next for Google? • Microphones in every ceiling • Microchips in our brains • Self-driving cars • Balloons over Africa • Robotics...
  31. 31. Thank you. @badams barry@thetomorrowlab.com http://www.barryadams.co.uk
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