- If someone prefers to search Google without personalization, add "&pws=0" (the "pws" stands for "personalized web search") to the end of the Google search url to turn it off, or use the incognito version of Chrome. Personalization tends to be a nice relevance improvement overall, but it doesn't trigger that much--when it launched, the impact was on the order of one search result above the fold for one in five search results.
- personalization has much less impact than localization, which takes things like your IP address into account when determining the best search results. You can change localization by going to country-specific versions of Google (e.g. search for [bank] on google.co.uk vs. google.co.nz), or on google.com you can click "change location" on the left sidebar to enter a different city or zip code in the U.S.
- We do have algorithms in place designed specifically to promote variety in the results page. For example, you can imagine limiting the number of results returned from one single site to allow other results to show up instead. That helps with the diversity of the search results. When trying to find the best search results, we look at relevance, diversity, personalization, localization, as well as serendipity and try to find the best balance we can.
I saw Eli Pariser's talk at TED and was skeptical, although I did enjoy his example of Facebook starting to return only his liberal friends because he only ever clicked on the links his liberal friends shared. I had a number of concerns browsing through Pariser's book, but I would encourage anyone interested in these issues to pick up a copy; it's a thoughtful read.
But here's why some people probably don't like personalization: It's invisible. There is nothing on the results page that tells you whether your results are personalized or not. Sure, you can look at whether the browser is in incognito mode or you can look for some parameter in the URL, but these things require that you already know about personalization.
In contrast to personalization there are various indicators that a page is localized. The most prominent is obviously the language of the text. As soon as all the search results are in my local language it is very obvious to me that I got localized search results. I can also detect localization by looking at the Google logo on the homepage (localized versions have the country name in grey text below the Google logo), by looking at the language of the Google interface, by remembering the domain name I used to access Google and by looking at the sidebar on the left that even displays a guess of my location on the city-level.
There are no such indicators at all for filtered/personalized results. Every user around me starts with the same version of Google results. That's how everyone got acquainted with Google in the beginning. Same results for everyone. There is no reason for a user to question that until you see the differences by comparing search results, which most users won't. Someone who doesn't happen to work at Google or didn't hear about the "filter bubble" can't know that search results will start to diverge from vanilla results over time.
So personalized Google results violate the principle of least astonishment.
While I can't speak for other people, I think that the concerns that some people have about this are rooted in the fact that you can get trapped in some sort of feedback loop without ever knowing. If you could see that your results are personalized you could compare them to unpersonalized results and decide for yourself which you like better.
Sorry, this is just not the case: we do provide indication on Google's search results page for personalized results. Here's a couple links that talk about how we surface whether results have been personalized: http://www.google.com/support/websearch/bin/answer.py?answer... is our support page and http://searchengineland.com/google-now-notifies-of-search-cu... is an article on Search Engine Land from 2008 when we started surfacing information on how results were personalized.
Here's a simple demo. Do a search in Chrome incognito mode and go to the bottom of the page. You won't see a link that says "View customizations." Now do a search in regular Chrome and check for that link. When I did a search for [matt cutts] in regular Chrome, I saw the "View customizations" link, clicking the link gives this message:
"Search customization details: matt cutts
When possible, Google will customize your search results based on location and/or recent search activity. Additionally, when you're signed in to your Google Account, you may see even more relevant, useful results based on your web history.
The following information was used to improve your search results for matt cutts:
Web HistoryOne or more items in your Web History were used to improve search results.
Manage Web History
Remove Web History from my Google Account
If you're curious, you can see what a search for matt cutts looks like without these improvements.
The 'More details' link on your search results page can be used to display this page for approximately 30 minutes, after which it will no longer show this page."
In other words, not only can you tell whether a search results page was personalized, you can click a link right on the search results to see exactly what criteria were used to personalize the results. And that page has a clear link to run the search again without personalization.
As I mentioned before, personalization is typically a minor effect in Google's search results and it's almost always an improvement. But for people who are worried about potential "over-personalization," we do provide easy ways to see when a search was personalized, why it was personalized, and do the search again without personalization.
In my defense, I couldn't know about the "View customizations" link because I do have web history turned off, so apparently I never saw any personalized search results. After reading the DuckDuckGo page I expected that everyone's search results get personalized, especially if I am logged in with a Gmail account.
It's obviously not your fault that I didn't know about that, but, on the other hand, you can never expect from a user to know the contents of any help page. Clicking on "help" links is not what most users do. (imagine smiley face here, I don't dare to do that on Hacker News)
Additionally, I think that the "View customizations" link is a bit misleading, because usually customizations (in terms of software) are not automatic. At least I would expect that customizations are something that I do.
Also, the link seems to be placed at the bottom of the page, which means that 99% of the users are probably blind for it. (I can't verify where it is actually placed, because I don't see it.)
After all, I am thankful for the great search results that Google offers. Thank you for your hard work.
But there's another guiding principle that things on the search results page need to "earn" their pixels. Since personalization is a second-order effect and very very few people ever cared enough to click the link and get more info, eventually that link made its way to the bottom of the search results.
But the real solution is to use a search engine that does not track you. Even better is to use it in such a way that it can't track you (ie. through a Tor proxy, while taking other reasonable precautions).
Over time, we saw that people didn't seem to notice/care about the message and corresponding link much, so it eventually migrated down to the bottom of the search results.
Instead, you could have tried to make it more prominent by (for instance) moving it to the upper left rather than the upper right of the search results, right above/below the ads.
Another issue that might be interesting to explore is to what extent users really understand what search customization is, and whether they'd care more or less about it being done automatically once they understood it better.
I have a feeling the vast majority of them probably wouldn't care, and take the attitude of "do whatever it takes to make the results you return more relevant, and I don't really care how."
Google also filters special terms like bittorrent in instant search. This is part of that bubble and people don't even realize it. Thats the point, that most people won't notice, not that the views are not there.
Its like experts-exchange.com putting content below the long footer of the page, yea they can claim its there but many won't notice.
I cant begin to describe how annoying it is that I am presented with a different language when travelling to a different country. All I ever want is Google in English but it keeps going back to a localized search regardless of the many times that I choose "google in english"
By the way, I asked why the "no country redirect" isn't stored with your Google account rather with a cookie. The main reason he gave was that whether to do a country redirect is one of the first things we decide, and it's faster to use a cookie for that than to go looking up the user's account setting. Or at least, cookies have been faster up until this point. Hope that helps explain things.
There seems to be no discernible pattern as to why it works in one session, suspend laptop, go somewhere else and it stops working. Or it'll work twice in a row and when I return location a (both in the same foreign country), it stops working.
Though it makes me less worried about them collating all my personal information if they can't figure out I didn't suddenly learn to speak German ;)
does not seem to be a valid option. Is there a way to pass NCR in a param like ncr=1? Or the fact that Google SSL is used implies use of NCR?
EDIT: It looks like &ncr=1 does work but I'm not sure if this is equivalent to no country redirect.
Right now, this is what I have set up (which also disables personalization)
Some of the time it doesn't, e.g. now when Google has custom logos I'll get a search term in Dutch (I'm in The Netherlands) when I click on it, even though I'm using google.com in English when doing so.
Also, it only works sometimes.
Trying to set the cookie just does not seem to stick
For some reason responsible googlers were ignoring my proposal.
I know I can use /ncr at the end, but I'd rather not have to do that all the time, and I think you can't even make that the default search for the Omnibox in Chrome, which means I have to give up Omnibox, which I love using, in order to get away from personalization. And even then, I think it just means I won't see my country specific results, but it probably still personalizes my search results through other types of signals.
So fine, don't make universal search the default way to search, but just give me a checkbox so I can turn it on when I want to. I want to see the best results, period - not the best results for me (or whatever Google thinks are the best results for me).
But aren't you a part of the relevance equation? The ideal results for a search like [bitcoin crash] should be different for a Japanese-speaking searcher in Tokyo vs. a German-speaking searcher in Munich vs. a bitcoin expert vs. a programmer trying to diagnose why compiling bitcoin is crashing vs. my Mom who has never heard of bitcoin before, right?
Short version of long story: I used to bounce my net traffic through an ssh tunnel to a hosted VM. The VM was moved to a new machine in south-east asia. Having Google Toolbar constantly send my searches to the localized engine, despite the cookie selection, my being logged in and my preferences being clearly set, was more of a day-to-day annoyance than having my traffic piped across the Pacific twice.
For YEARS, on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, always logged-in, always with preferences set to english, it is infuriating to routinely end up receiving results that conflict with your explicit language settings.
What, concretely, do we have to do to get someone at google to push a change from using cookies to a real user-setting to fix this absurdity?
You said they did it for speed. Giving me completely incorrect results in a language I can't even read 1 millisecond faster than giving me results that I actually care about is a win? This is over-optimization.
I agree completely. Reading that page, my first thought was "if (not saying I don't) Egypt is a place I probably don't plan on going to, why should I waste time looking at those links in my search results?"
Overall, I think personalization (wow, this isn't a word?) reaches its own form of market efficiency. If the personalization algorithms are bad, then people would shy away from the search engines that provide them. However, if they make sense, and return the most relevant results most of the time, then that's saving us a lot of time.
"Append a cryptic query param" is a terrible user interface, and it's a little silly to suggest this as a solution. Make it an option real people can discover and use.
when it launched
Just curious, why add this qualification? Is it significantly different now?
the impact was on the order of one search result above the fold for one in five search results.
That statistic needs a little clarifying. Query terms frequency follows a power law distribution, doesn't it? So if you're counting each individual term, the fact that 1 in 20 have altered results could very easily still mean a majority of actual searches are altered. And depending on how you calculated the 'one search result above the fold' number, it could very easily still mean that when a page is altered, it's altered significantly.
More interesting would be knowing these stats for just the fat head of the query term distribution.
Personally, if I have a search that feels a bit sensitive, I just hop into incognito mode in Chrome. Control-shift-N is an easy shortcut to open an incognito window in Chrome. And don't forget that you can use https://encrypted.google.com/ to do a search via SSL as well, which provides an encrypted tunnel between your browser and Google.
One solution that actually does solve this is to use Scroogle or to access google through Tor.
EDIT: I feel that i should clarify that of course SSL is a very important feature to have for a whole slew of reasons and that i'm glad Google supports it, just that it wasn't relevant to my point.
I'm a big believer in prioritizing actual issues over perceived issues. Using SSL search prevents bosses, ISPs, and governments from sniffing your queries, and I consider those to be the largest threats to your privacy. Some ISPs sell their customers' query data and surfing patterns, for example. In contrast, when the Department of Justice tried to subpoena two months worth of user queries, Google resisted that challenge and won in court. Having worked at Google for 11+ years, I know that my colleagues care a great deal about our users' trust and privacy and work to protect it with features like SSL search, two-factor authentication, warnings when sites might be hacked or hosting malware, etc.
If you're that worried about Google, don't use it, but if you still want Google results but with as much anonymization as possible, I would choose Tor+incognito-Chromium instead of Scroogle for your searches.
Ironically, "the real concern" is personalized. The married guy searching for "hot local hookups" doesn't care what google knows, he just doesn't want it to show up in his browser's history. The junior high student reading The Big Book of Mischief in the computer lab doesn't want his school's network monitors to find out. The dissident in Tunisia doesn't want his government monitoring his Internet usage.
There's only a small set of privacy-conscious Internet users who should be concerned about Google, whether or not they're as impregnable a bastion of privacy as their employees might claim.
Crazy good stuff has been going on with DDG the latest couple of months, I'm just glad I've finally found a search provider who takes these issues seriously!