Google: how to un-personalise your search

Google never stands still. It is forever seeking to improve the way it tries to match your search request to its database, and then to show you potentially useful websites. Mostly we are not aware of how it does this, or when it makes changes to its methods. Since the launch of Google instant last year, though, it has become more obvious that Google is doing something more than just searching – it tries to guess what you want to search for before you have finished typing in your search. It knows your mind better than you do yourself! This can be useful when it works but damned annoying when it doesn’t. It reminds me of Microsoft’s infamous helpful paperclip, the Office Assistant (except that was damned annoying 99.99% of the time, at a conservative estimate).

Another Google feature that can be a help or a hindrance is personalisation. In theory it sounds useful – it helps to ensure that the results you see from Google are tailored to your needs. But in practice there can be downsides, as blogger Cyrus Shepard has pointed out recently:

[personalisation] creates a real risk of limiting our worldview. Every new search result starts to look like the search before. Our ideas become isolated and homogenized, like exclusively watching only Fox News or MSNBC, while refusing to consider CNN. There are times when personalization and localization work well, such as when Iā€™m looking for a pizza restaurant in Seattle. The maddening part is, what if I want to turn it off? There are times when I want unbiased results not based on my past search history, my location, or what my social circle has shared.

He goes on to share some tips on how to switch off the Google personalisation features. Worth a look.

[Added 1 Jul, 08:30. Oops – I forgot to include the link to Cyrus’ blog post.

Meanwhile, watch this space for more news about Google’s plans to take on social media giant Facebook.

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we move further from print to electronic resources to open research, and become more embedded in research workflows.
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4 Responses to Google: how to un-personalise your search

  1. Materialist says:

    Is there a link available to Shepard’s blog or a list of de-personalization tips?

  2. Frank says:

    Sorry – I meant to include it but had a moment of dottiness! I’ve added it now. Thanks for pointing out the omission.

  3. chall says:

    I hadn’t thought about the “personalization” as much since I try to not log in when I dio searches on google… and clear my cache a lot. But I’ll take a look at the links and see if maybe I’ve limited myself without even knowing it…. ^^

    As for the Office assistant, every so often when I was doing my graduate studies I thought of paperclip as a friendly face who wanted to help… Granted, never really did help but at least he asked? šŸ˜‰

  4. Pingback: Google personalised searches and the ‘echo chamber’ effect? | Code for Life