23 February 2012

Google, Search History, Personalization and Bubbling

If you use Google and are worried by either the amount of data it captures about you, the amount of personalization it does or its consolidation across different services (Web Search, Gmail, YouTube, Picassa etc.) you need to act before 1st March to change some settings.
There are four main things you may wish to consider doing.
  1. Deleting your web search history.
    To do this:
    1. Go to http://www.google.com/history
    2. Log in
    3. Delete your search history.
    It may or may not also pause collection of your web history when you do this.
  2. Stopping search history being collected.
    If you want to do this, from the same login as above, click the button to pause web history collection.
  3. If you would like to stop Google using its data about you to personalize ads, you can opt out by going to
    http://www.google.com/ads/preferences
    and opting out of personalization.
I’m not saying you should do this: if you like Google keeping and integrating data about you across its services and then using that to personalize ads, you probably want to leave these settings as they are. But I don’t like it, so I have turned off my Web History completely and Opted out of personalized ads.

Search Bubbling

I have been using a different search engine called DuckDuckGo a lot of the time for a few months now. It doesn’t retain data about your searches and also, doesn’t do what’s become known as bubbling. Bubbling is the process of returning different results to different users based on what the search engine thinks you want, based on many different signals such as what you’ve clicked on before, where you’ve been on the web, where you are in the world etc.
I’m not going to go so far as to say bubbling is bad or evil: many people like it. But a consequence of it is that the range of information you get presented to you is filtered by something guessing what you want, with the result that you see an increasing narrow, unchallenging range of content.

There are a couple if good resources to learn more about bubbling. One is DuckDuckGo’s explanation of it at http://dontbubble.us/. Another is a TED talk by Eli Pariser, who explains the issue very clearly. You can see it at: http://www.thefilterbubble.com/ted-talk. He also has a book called The Filter Bubble (which I haven’t yet read).

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