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We’re number one… or not. The vagaries of Google’s search engine.

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Wed, May 12, 2010 at 4:18 pm

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We’re number one… or not. The vagaries of Google’s search engine.

As we ready Inside Google, now in “Beta” mode, for its formal launch I’ve been checking various search engines to see where the site ranks.  Today Google put our new site at number one. Take a look at the screen shot below.

Could it be true?

Bing.com had us at  number two as did IXquick.com, the European search engine known for respecting privacy. Scroogle.org, which scrapes results from Google, and thus prevents the Internet giant from gathering your personal data, ranked us at number 40. Since the results are pulled from Google that got me wondering.

When in doubt, I call my wife.  She did a Google search on our home computer and Inside Google was still relegated to the fourth page of search results.

I used another browser. Same result: Inside Google remained in the hinterlands of Google’s search.  Then it dawned on me.

Google has been keeping track of what I’ve been seeking. After I’d requested “Inside Google” and gone to the site enough times from the link provided, it figured that would always be my top choice. I guess that’s what the folks in the Googleplex call “personalized search.”

So, I cleared all my Google “cookies”, those little bits of computer code that Google places on my browser to enable the Internet giant to track my every online move.

I re-entered the “Inside Google” query and the response was back on the fourth-page hinterland.

How about those algorithms,  huh?  Isn’t cool that the Google tracks me and figures out what I want?  Wait a minute, though, what else does Google know about me and how will  the company use the information?

That’s not so cool. It actually starts to be more than a little disconcerting.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 363 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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2 Responses to “We’re number one… or not. The vagaries of Google’s search engine.”

  1. Mitch Says:

    “So, I cleared all my Google “cookies”, those little bits of computer code that Google places on my browser to enable the Internet giant to track my every online move.”

    I would hardly say that the cookies that Google uses “track my every online move.” At most, they track your activity on google.com (as cookies are limited by domain name). Most users would see it as a service that Google remembers which link they’re clicking on, so that they don’t have to sift through results to reach the same link.

    And anyways, I seriously doubt they’re cookies are personally identifiable. They don’t know that “John M. Simpson constantly goes to Inside Google”, all they know is “this user like Inside Google, so we’ll bump it up the results to make it easier to find.”

    Finally, if you don’t like the idea of Google remembering what you search for, you can either disable cookies for google.com, or use an alternative.

  2. Rick Says:

    Seriously? This post undermines the credibility of the entire site. Anyone posing as an authority about Google has to understand a few fundamental aspects about how search works in general and Google in particular.

    I was hoping for some original insight but all I see is propaganda-ish material intent on scaring those who know even less than the author.

    If you want users to find sites that are relevant to them, it is reasonable to serve results from sites that they have have shown a pattern of visiting. In fact, this features HELPS your readership and traffic by making the site more visible the next time readers do a search. You actually benefit from the search algo that you criticize.

    Another way the data is useful is by serving results that are relevant on a geographic basis. If you were to search for “pharmacy” would you want the corporate HQ three states over or the store 3 miles away? This isn’t scary, it’s useful information and openly discussed publicly on the numerous Google blogs.

    This may be an overly harsh critique but you will need valuable, more authoritative content to be taken seriously.

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