Privatised, not Personalised: Google Clears Air on Search Results

Google, on Wednesday, 5 December, clarified on the longstanding skepticism that search results on Google are personalised based on the user's history and habits.

The tech giant put out a Twitter thread explaining why different search results are NOT a case of personalised search.

Google said, "We do not personalize search results based on demographic profiles nor create such profiles for use in Google Search."

It said that personalisation doesn't happen often. However, even if it does happen, it doesn’t dramatically change search results from one person to another.

" “It is usually so lightly applied that the results are very similar to what someone would see without personalization.”" - Google

To test how lightly personalisation is used in Google search, one can log into the Incognito mode of the browser and do a search without all the account-based activity. Google also gives an option to close personalisation using account based activity.

Google said that the reason why two people might get different search results is due to non-personalised reasons - taking note of your location, language, platform, etc.

"“One of the most common reasons results may differ between people involves localised results, when listings are customized to be relevant for anyone in a particular area. Localisation isn’t personalisation because everyone in the same location gets the same results.”" - Google

Google gave an example of the word 'football'. Searching for football in the US and UK gives completely different results (Americans call football, soccer). People searching for a certain thing in a certain area want relevant listings, it said.

Similar is the case with language. A person wants results in the language he/she has searched in. Hence, Google caters to that.

An example of the same search in different languages. English (above) and French (below).

Google clarified that another factor that leads to a varied search result is the dynamic nature of Google's search system.

"“Our various data centers are constantly being updated with the latest information we have gathered from trillions of pages, along with our latest ranking improvements. But while we make changes as simultaneous as possible, some new or changed pages might not appear in all data centers immediately, or our latest ranking improvements may not have fully rolled out. These factors, not personalisation, can create slight or brief differences in results.”"

The tech giant also said that timing also matters. If two people have searched for the same thing hours or maybe minutes apart, updated material might have surfaced.

"“Our ‘Top stories’ section, which is never personalized, can change significantly in a short period of time.”"

Wrapping up the long thread, Google said that the kind of device might also matter as on mobile, the search engine loads mobile friendly and faster loading pages.

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