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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

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:
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

• 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
• 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.
Why wouldn’t you want that?
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Why wouldn’t you want that? The Dangers of Personalised Search

Why wouldn’t you want that?
• Because you’ll rarely be exposed to something new and

• It erodes the commonalities between all people.
• Our worldviews will become increasingly polarised, isolated, and

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