This week, Google introduced new features for its search engine that give priority to Google+ results when someone conducts a search using its site. Google+ is Google’s social network, similar to Facebook, where individuals can maintain social pages.
The new features are being criticized because Google is unabashedly skewing search results in its own favor, highlighting its own search results and pushing others lower on the page (or off the page, as it may be). While this may seem like a minor change, this issue is part of a bigger discussion that has been brewing recently.
As search engines like Google continue to refine and enhance their search algorithms, certain policies are made that change the outcome or results of searches conducted online. The practical effect is that the information available online is now dictated by companies like Google. They decide what is relevant, based on what they feel you want to know, not necessarily what information is available in cyberspace.
A good example of this is the “Home” page of Facebook. Generally, when you look at the “Home” page, what you see are updates and pictures from the people Facebook thinks you want to know about. Not all of your contacts and Facebook friends are included. Long story short, there are various settings that you can change to avoid this, including sorting by time rather than by relevance, but the concept is the same: you only see what they want you to see.
This isn’t to say that Google has evil intentions and should be brought to its knees. Instead, the reason that I think this issue is important (and maybe even legally relevant) is because the policies set by Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook, and others are effectively censoring the public’s access to information. And that is an important recognition.
So, while it may be convenient that your computer or phone recognizes that you live in a particular area of the city, and therefore modifies your search results for Chinese food for that neighborhood, just remember that there may be better information out there that your phone won’t let you find.
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