back to article Google 'personalizes' one in five searches

Google "personalizes" as much as 20 per cent of your web searches, according to Mountain View software engineer Bryan Horling. Speaking this afternoon at the search-obsessed SMX West conference in Santa Clara, Horling - a developer with Google's personalized search team - said that up to one in five searches are tailored to …

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  1. jake Silver badge

    Isn't sstalking illegal, pretty much everwhere?

    ""For years, we've been personalizing for an entire continent [or country]," Horling said. "More recently, what we've started doing is taking the same intuition but applying it at a finer granularity.""

    In other words, google is stalking individual human beings. That means YOU, reader.

    You can pretty it up as much as you want, but the reality is that google is spending an awful lot of CPU time tying online activity, and the details of that activity, to anyone who is daft enough to use google.

    This is a good idea WHY, exactly?

    google is a slow motion train-wreck in progress. Avoid 'em at all costs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Tell me again...

      ... how is google different from Phorm?

      1. Nigel 11
        Thumb Up

        Difference from Phorm

        You voluntarily use Google. You don't have to. It's not inflicted on you by your ISP.

  2. Mandrin
    Stop

    "THEM: Here you go....

    Let us think for you and tell you what you want..."

    You ....urmm, ok....

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Okay then.

    That's all versions of Google cookies switched from 'Allow for session' to 'Deny'!

    1. Jaques Croissant

      re: "Okay then"

      Don't do that, just allow all cookies, and have the browser delete them all on startup/shutdown. Less time wasted micromanaging junk, and it allows various privacy violators to randomly assign you IDs as much as they like, with no useful persistent info- plus everything works.

      Also, FFox users might like the "better privacy" addon, which can nuke flash cookies on startup/shutdown (useful even if you're running noscript+adblock, as you should).

      All of that is just a few clicks to set up, doesn't interfere with your browser, and does wonders for privacy.

      1. HollyX
        Badgers

        Or ...

        ... use the Google Sharing patch for FF as reported here a while back, which works very nicely :-)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Alternatively...

      ...you could just stop using Google.

      1. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge

        Love to...

        ...have a reasonable alternative in mind? Bing searches seem less accurate.

        For now, I'll stick with scroogle.

  4. Filippo

    screw SEOs

    So, the poor cheaters are unhappy because cheating is getting harder? I'm soooo sorry. Not. Try to optimize for humans, for a change.

  5. Ned Leprosy
    WTF?

    Huh?

    > "The idea behind social search is that we surface content from your social circle,"

    That's nice. Anybody know what the hell he's going on about, though?

    Sigh. At least he didn't say "leverage" or "paradigm". Unless I just missed it.

    1. Slappy
      Badgers

      Buzz words

      "At least he didn't say "leverage" or "paradigm""

      Or "Empower", how i hate that one!

    2. A. Coatsworth Silver badge
      Big Brother

      I'm replying to a comment... shouldn't this field be auto filled?

      Why, in the unholy name of Cthulu, would I want to run a search for content from my social circle?

      If I wanted information from them, I'd ask them directly! The idea behind a web search is getting information I can not get *otherwise* FFS...

      </rant>

      Big Brother because... HE knows...

  6. Cameron Colley

    But who else can you use for searches?

    I've been pissed off with google search ever since they started forcing me to google.co.uk rather than letting me decide which search I wanted to use -- and I'm beginning to notice the falsified results they send me based on my IP address. The problem is, there is no other search engine out there which returns better results.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Coat

      re: "But who else can you use for searches? "

      Bing! Bing goes the internet! It's both Amazing and Great, big Steve "uncle Fester" Ballmer says so!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What

      Google's results have long been crap and are getting worse. I suspect that the reason for this is their trying to think for you rather than just doing a search. Enter a phrase in the search box and often you'll find all sorts of vaguely related crap on the first few of pages and then down on page three or four of the results will be a page that contains your exact phrase in the first paragraph.

      I don't want a search engine to think for me, I don't want fuzzy logic, I don't want page rankings. I want it to do a simple text search and return the pages that contain text that comes closest to the text I asked for. Simple.

      I like to do my own thinking, thank you.

      Can we have a sheep icon for all the Google users please?

    3. Nick Stallman
      Happy

      untitled

      Try http://www.google.com/ncr

      I think thats what you want.

    4. Robert E A Harvey

      try scroogling then

      Scroogle - a google scraper - claims to give you a layer of insulation, and might therefore help a bit.

      http://www.scroogle.org/

      Much as it pains me to say so, Ask.com, with it's edited result table, often gives better results.

      I use Wolfram Alpha more and more as google returns more and more dross. Try this one for example: http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=uk+population+growth

      1. Bart Tyszka

        scroogle

        ...is great.

      2. Matt_W

        Misread that...

        as wolf MAN alpha - which I think sounds much snappier!

    5. John H Woods Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      two points...

      1) You can stop the country redirect with the '/ncr' suffix e.g. "http://www.google.com/ncr" will take you to the US site regardless of where you are (or where your VPN exit point says you are).

      2) You can use scroogle or the google share to continue using google for results, without letting them gain too much information about you.

      HTH

  7. Watashi

    Zoo

    I wonder what people who work at zoos and safaris get when searching for pr0n?

  8. TimNevins

    Heres a good alternative

    http://www.startpage.com/

    Watch the video they include to how how it protects privacy.

    Strongly recommended by Katherine Albrecht

    1. Bart Tyszka

      startpage

      Looks OK (dorky name, though). It uses ixquick to run the machinery, which doesn't seem to be a bad search engine.

      However, the ads before and after the results on the first page, and prior to the results on each succeeding page are just too irritating.

  9. Paul Uszak

    Does it matter?

    Exactly how effective can google be? Loads of people use automatic cookie deletion apps, so all that leaves is ip addresses and they change for most users...

    1. Steve Roper
      Boffin

      Yes, it does

      Even if you delete your cookies, and your IP address changes, whatever new IP address you are assigned, will still identify the city you're coming from. I've demonstrated this to others several times, by clearing all cookies and rebooting the router, then doing a traceroute to google.com. The first address in the list that appears is your router's LAN IP (eg 192.168.0.1), the second address is your ISP, which in my case gives a result like lns20.adl6.internode.on.net [203.16.xxx.xxx]. That tells anyone with a half-decent geolocation database that I'm in Adelaide, Australia (as well as the fact that my ISP is Internode!).

      So Google can still be very effective at determining your location (and therefore tailoring search results to it), even if you have your privacy settings up the wazoo and reboot your router every 10 minutes.

      What's even scarier is the way you can be statistically identified using a Flesch-Kincaid readability test. In its simplest form, this test simply establishes how readable anything you write is. With a bit of further analysis, however, a machine can use an F-K based algorithm to recognise specific styles of writing and spelling and deduce the statistical probability of a certain person being the author of whatever is typed, once it's 'learned' that style (such as the style of my writing in this comment!) And I've seen examples of this test being pretty damned accurate - on the order of 75-85% in a class I was in a few years ago. It nailed me every time because of my distinctive writing style.

      So if you post in any forum, comments section, SN site, or blog that allows Google's tracking scripts to monitor what's submitted, it's entirely feasible (though not yet necessarily fact) that Google could do an F-K match-up on the text and, if the match is better than a certain threshold, associate your current IP address with an identity in its database. OK, you might block google-analytics.com's Javascript with NoScript, but if the site is sharing data with Google server-side - and Google *will* start pushing that as soon as they notice a lot of people blocking google-analytics.com - you're pretty much fucked.

  10. Terry 6 Silver badge
    Grenade

    Categories

    But still Google hasn't managed to categorise results.

    If I want to find out about something, or locate a maker's web site I just don't want to get a trillion sites telling me that they can sell it to me ( If they had it in stock, which they don't right now, but they might, one day and then I can definitely buy it from them, honest, gov)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    That's why google maps are now useless

    That explains why if I search for a road in London it comes up with a suggestion in Portsmouth where I live. Useless! I do have my cookies set for deletion every time I close my browser.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Erm?

      If you type "Kings Croft" into google maps I get a selection of Kings Crofts across the country. If, however, I centre the map on a particular place, lets choose Doncaster, it suggests places in the rough area of Doncaster. If I then type "Kings Croft, Watford" it gives me suggestions in that area. Do you, perchance centre google maps by default on your home?

      So yes you were right to choose the FAIL icon. Your post is made of FAIL. If you want to search for a road in london try suffixing it with ", London" and that's where it will look. Otherwise it will look in the area where your map is centred. Alternatively zoom out to show the whole country and it will search the whole country. That is the only extent to which google maps searches are personalised at the moment.

  12. eddystone82
    FAIL

    News search results

    It might also explain why when I do a news search it tells me there are hundreds of results but if I click on that link it gives me about 5. Why?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    personalized

    That must be where they make the first 3 results for every search point to Wikipedia.

    Or maybe that's what causes the next 6 results to be nothing but template sites hosting adverts and "reviews" copied directly off an Amazon user reviews page circa 2006.

  14. mittfh

    Geo IP?

    It may be relatively accurate if you're living in a big city, but more often than not Geo IP is highly laughable.

    I live in Kenilworth, but Geo IP places me in Coventry, Rugby or even Sheffield!

    I work in Warwick, but Geo IP places me in Birmingham.

    An easy way to check out where the 'net thinks your IP address is located is geoiptool dot com. Geo IP databases aren't pre-allocated (apart from by ISP) - the way they determine where you live is through harvesting information from sites where you need to enter your address (e.g. online shops), who also collect your IP address.

    Or at least, that's the way it used to work before someone came up with the bright idea of allowing mobile phones to broadcast your current grid reference to the 'net...

    -oOo-

    However, for me, it's evidently collecting my search history based on IP - searching on a few local (generic) street names (e.g. High Street, Station Road), I get a mixed bag of results, but you can guarantee the first map result will be local...

    ...and I'm using a fresh install of Portable Firefox...

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