Google shows personalised search results even when users are logged out

By Cheyenne MacDonald for DailyMail

Google’s private browsing options may not be as incognito as you’d expect.

New research into Google’s ‘filter bubbles,’ in which search results are personalized based on the data it’s collected about you, has found that logging out or switching to Incognito Mode does almost nothing to shield you from targeted results.

By comparing search results for controversial topics, including gun control, immigration, and vaccinations, the study (notably conducted by rival search engine, DuckDuckGo) uncovered significant variations in what different users were shown.

New research into Google’s ‘filter bubbles,’ in which search results are personalised based on the data it’s collected about you, has found that logging out or switching to Incognito Mode does almost nothing to shield you from targeted results.

Despite the common assumption that logging out or going Incognito provides anonymity, DuckDuckGo points out that this isn’t really the case.

Websites use several other identifying factors to keep tabs on users’ activity, including IP addresses.

To highlight the issue, DuckDuckGo recruited volunteers in the US to perform a series of searches for the terms ‘gun control,’ ‘immigration,’ and ‘vaccinations.’

All were tasked to do this at the same time, at 9pm ET on Sunday, June 24, in Incognito, logged out, and then logged back in.

The study also controlled for location, DuckDuckGo notes.

This made for 87 sets of results in total, with 76 desktop users and 11 mobile users.

Despite the anonymised conditions, which would be expected to produce the same results across the board, most of the participants still appeared to see personalised results.

Private searches for gun control, for example, yielded 62 different sets of results for the 76 participants.

Similar trends were seen in searches for the other two terms, with 57 variations in ‘immigration’ results, and 73 variations in ‘vaccinations’ results.

Users were shown links in different orders, and some were shown links that were not displayed to others.

News and Video infoboxes, in particular, demonstrated ‘significant variation.’

A search for ‘immigration,’ for example, pulled up six variations from six different sources in the Videos infobox, while ‘gun control’ led to 12 variations from 7 sources.

According to DuckDuckGo, the findings indicate that ‘it’s simply not possible to use Google search and avoid its filter bubble.’

While the motivations behind the study are undoubtedly biased, the findings still stand as a reminder that true anonymity on the internet isn’t as straightforward as it might seem.

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