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What the Search Engines Know About Us


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Presentation given at the Online Information 2011 Conference. Olympia Conference Centre, London, 1st December 2011.

Published in: Technology, News & Politics

What the Search Engines Know About Us

  1. 1. What the search engines know about us Online Information, London, 2011 Karen Blakeman [email_address] Slides available at and on authorSTREAM and Slideshare This presentation is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
  2. 2. Personalization is commonplace 01/12/11 Amazon Online shopping (Ocado) Targeted advertising
  3. 3. Search engines personalize too <ul><li>“ Dear Bing, We Have 10,000 Ranking Signals To Your 1,000. Love, Google” </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>over 200 hundred “signals”, many have over 50 variations </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ Bing Adds Adaptive Search, Customized by Your Search History” </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Emphasis on Google in this presentation because Google is the most open about what it does!! </li></ul>01/12/11
  4. 4. Your browser, device, operating system... <ul><li>Panopticlick </li></ul>01/12/11
  5. 5. Where are you? <ul><li>IP address location on desktop or laptop </li></ul><ul><li>Mobile devices </li></ul><ul><li>Present you with what they think is the relevant country information </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ local” content is given priority and more emphasis </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>access to some sites and information blocked to those outside of local “region/area” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Actual location is not always correct – some hotel broadband networks give the wrong country for user’s physical location </li></ul>01/12/11
  6. 6. 01/12/11
  7. 7. Search engines remember what you’ve done <ul><li>Results change depending on activity </li></ul><ul><li>So do ads </li></ul><ul><ul><li>for your “ad preferences” in Google go to </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>gives you a clue as to what Google (and other search engines) thinks you like to see </li></ul></ul>01/12/11
  8. 8. Facebook remembers you... <ul><li>....even when you think you’ve deleted stuff </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li> - Data Pool </li></ul></ul>01/12/11
  9. 9. Google knows us so well 01/12/11 Google personalizes and tailors your results depending on your location, computer, browser, past searches, what you have looked at in the past, your +1s, your blocked sites, your Google+ account, your other social networks, what you had for breakfast...and anything else it can find by rummaging around in your Google dashboard They all do it
  10. 10. Google personalization 01/12/11
  11. 11. Your social networks <ul><li>Logged in to a Google account? Your social media connections may be given priority </li></ul><ul><li>Used +1 to “approve” a page or posting? </li></ul><ul><li>Blocked sites from your searches? </li></ul><ul><li>Google says it may use all of these as “signals” for everyone, not just you </li></ul><ul><li>Check the dashboard on your Google account </li></ul>01/12/11
  12. 12. 01/12/11 An identical search run at the same time by several  people with differing social network connections and on different devices will come up with different results. Presents problems for those of us who help and advise others on effective search strategies. We can no longer say that a particular search strategy is the best approach for dealing with a specific type of search. You see what you want to see
  13. 13. Google can seriously damage your news <ul><li>Experiment by Mary Ellen Bates </li></ul><ul><li>Is Google really filtering my news? - Librarian of Fortune </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Highlights </li></ul><ul><ul><li>More than 25% of stories showed up in only one searcher’s results </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Almost one in five searchers saw a story that no one else saw </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Only 12% of searchers saw the same 3 stories in the same order </li></ul></ul><ul><li>And it’s about to get worse – “Google News Launches &quot;Standout&quot; Tag for Featured Content” </li></ul>01/12/11
  14. 14. Do you know what you’re sharing and with whom? <ul><li>Facebook news apps </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Read&quot; in Facebook - It's Not a Button, So Be Careful What You Click! </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Google profiles can no longer be private </li></ul><ul><li>Google+ circles </li></ul><ul><li>Android Google+ by default uploads photos to your album (thankfully doesn’t automatically share – at the moment) </li></ul><ul><li>Google+ taking over share functions e.g. Google Reader </li></ul>01/12/11
  15. 15. Do you know what you’re sharing and with whom? <ul><li>Logging in to sites with email address, user name and password disappearing </li></ul><ul><li>Log in with Facebook or Google+ account </li></ul><ul><li>Log in with Facebook and you automatically &quot;like&quot; the page or site, with Google+ you +1 it </li></ul>01/12/11
  16. 16. De-cluttering your Google dashboard may not be possible  01/12/11
  17. 17. More dashboard clutter.... 01/12/11 Note: Secondary connections are included in determining relevant search results
  18. 18. Do you have any control over personalization? <ul><li>Not entirely but damage limitation sometimes possible </li></ul><ul><li>Decide whether or not having a web history is going to be a help or a hindrance </li></ul><ul><li>If you have a Google or Bing account: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>log out of it when you don’t need it </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>regularly check your dashboard and privacy settings </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>delete “stuff” and clear histories if you don’t need them </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Use Google Verbatim when necessary </li></ul><ul><li>Check your ad preferences in Google and also consider using Network Advertising Initiative </li></ul><ul><li>Cookie management (but remember if you delete all cookies you will lose opt-out cookies as well) </li></ul>01/12/11
  19. 19. Reject all cookies? <ul><li>You won’t get very far on the internet without cookies </li></ul><ul><li>New European legislation “Cookie laws” </li></ul><ul><li>Active management of cookies? Can be time consuming and may lose opt-out cookies </li></ul>01/12/11
  20. 20. 01/12/11 “ Normal” search Verbatim (identical to &pws=0) Chrome Incognito Google searches
  21. 21. Go undercover? <ul><li>Anonymous proxy servers? </li></ul><ul><li>Browser tools </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Firefox – Tools, Start private browsing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Chrome has an incognito mode - still has localisation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Internet Explorer – In Private Browsing </li></ul></ul><ul><li> – anonymised interface to Google </li></ul><ul><ul><li>no cookies, no search-term records, access log deleted within 48 hrs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>web search only and no verbatim search </li></ul></ul><ul><li> – does not keep your web history or personalize </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Personalization is not always bad! </li></ul>01/12/11