The “significance” of the paper was helpfully spelled out by the authors:
From the paper:
We present evidence from five experiments in two countries suggesting the power and robustness of the search engine manipulation effect (SEME). Specifically, we show that (i) bi- ased search rankings can shift the voting preferences of un- decided voters by 20% or more, (ii) the shift can be much higher in some demographic groups, and (iii) such rankings can be masked so that people show no awareness of the manip- ulation. Knowing the proportion of undecided voters in a population who have Internet access, along with the pro- portion of those voters who can be influenced using SEME, allows one to calculate the win margin below which SEME might be able to determine an election outcome.”
Does anyone have any information about this topic or these authors?
duckduckgo has, or at least used to have, a collection of essays about how search engine algorithms can manipulate the search results you see, as well as how those manipulated results can affect your on-line experiences. Not to mention, essays about all the tracking that search engines (duckduckgo excepted, of course) do.
They keep re-arranging their site and the home page doesn’t have obvious navigation to their essays that I can find. But here’s one, about how the search engines can give every user a very different collection of search results for the same search, based on the engine’s information that it has collected on you. Duckduckgo, of course, claims to never do this.
I just re-read the essay that I linked to just above. (It’s actually a mostly pictorial essay.) I think it is relevant to the OP’s subject. It points out that search engines (Google in particular) arrange results according to what Google already thinks you want to see. So, for example, if you have a search history of searching or clicking on conservative web sites when you search on some political term, it will continue to steer you to conservative sites when you do similar searches. Somebody else, with a history of searching for liberal sites, could enter the same search terms and get a very different selection of liberal web sites for the results.
One of the examples it shows: Search for Barack Obama. One user gets top results pointing to MSNBC and HuffPo; another user gets top results including Fox News.
Or search for “abortion”. Some users will get links to Planned Parenthood; others get links to anti-abortion sites.
Or search for Egypt. One user gets articles about political protests; another user gets travel information.
Interesting. thanks. I guess I knew this-Google has always said that their site customizes the results to what the user is most interested in. But I hadn’t thought about the implications.
On further reflection on the original article, I don’t search for news using Google, though I certainly search for additional information on news stories. So I guess I will be steered further in my preferred direction as opposed to what the “facts” might say when I investigate a news article further. But for the majority of times when I am satisfied to read a story on a news site, I don’t think Google directly steers me (though it may very well have steered the writer of that article). I wonder how it is for the majority of users…
I think this disables a lot of the tracking. First, I don’t get a lot of ads, just from having JS blocked. I don’t get remembered because I delete cookies. And sites don’t know who I am except when I actually log in.
I think sites could only track me by my IP number, and I don’t know how much of that happens. When I sign on to certain of my bank account sites, I often have to go through a few extra security steps (like answering one of my Secret Questions) because of this. That’s fine with me.