Google Ruling: Search Is Always Biased

May 15 2014, 5:25am CDT | by

The European ruling on Google, that it must consider taking down historical facts about people and entities that they consider “irrelevant” if they ask, is of course insane. It adds to the evidence that legislation and rulings on technology are passed by people who simply don’t understand it. It could be useful for small businesses who’ve screwed up somehow, hospitals who’ve lost a patient through negligence – just appeal it and Google will be forced to consider hiding it from view.

Of course the items to which people object will still be online, just not traceable through Google. So someone who knows what they’re doing will be able to link to it through social networks or find it through other means, but we won’t bother the Europeans with this. I’m European myself and proud of it but guys, you’ve really messed up this time.

It does raise one misconception, though: that people have assumed they’re getting an unfiltered search in the first place. And frankly you haven’t been, for some time.

Based on your preferences

Users aren’t always aware that if they log into their account, Google will personalise a search for them. It means on the one hand that it takes account of where you are and subjects in which you’ve shown an interest before, which is generally a good thing. On the other hand I’ve known small businesses and fellow authors become suddenly crestfallen when they announce they’re on Google page one for their given subject and they know because they checked on their own computer – and someone has to tell them that they’ve reached that stage mostly because they’ve searched for their own details fifty times in the last week. It may be that the results will be different for someone else.

Armed with this information they can log out of their account and try a ‘neutral’ search to check their ranking, but even this isn’t going to be as independent as people might hope. It will be influenced by SEO and Google’s own criteria, plus changing algorithms. Only last week I was chatting to a company whose sales halved overnight because Google altered its algorithm and they fell off the search engine’s listing. Their company hadn’t changed, the quality of the product was still fine but Google had made a decision.

Nobody should doubt that Google does its best. The changes it brought in that affected my contact so badly were intended to stop people tricking the system and they worked admirably in most cases. My point is that a search on any system has to have criteria applied, and that means someone, somewhere has made decisions about these criteria on the searcher’s behalf.

Many commentators have rightly said that the new ruling in Europe is misguided. I fully agree and hope it gets overturned. However, entrepreneurs and individuals who are complaining that any right to be selective about how much of your history shows up in a search will damage Google’s complete independence is to miss an important point. As long as someone has to set parameters – and Google does a good job – there can never be any such thing as a completely objective search.

The Google Search Evolution

 
 

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