Study Finds Google Manipulates Logged Out Search Results Even In Incognito Mode

We all know that Google gathers a plethora of data on us as we surf the web and stay logged into Google accounts. You might think that Chrome's incognito mode allows you to surf the web anonymously where Google isn't tweaking results of your searches based on what it knows about you, but you would be wrong. You might even think that if you don't log into your Google account, you are anonymous; again that isn't the case according to a recent study.

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DuckDuckGo, a search company that competes with Google, conducted the study, and it aimed to see just how big of an issue Google's so-called "Filter bubble" is. The company describes Filter Bubble as the manipulation of your search results based on personal data. Essentially this is the practice that allows Google to move links up or down or add them to your search results based on information Google has like your search and browsing history or purchase history. The "bubble" is created when Google puts results in front of you based on what it thinks you are most likely to click on rather than just providing results based on a search query. Manipulation of search results is a particular problem when people are searching for political topics.

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DuckDuckGo notes that in 2012 it ran a study that proved Google's filter bubble had a significant influence on the 2012 Presidential Election in the U.S. by inserting tens of millions of more links for Obama than it did for Romney in the run-up to that election. Hoards of people use Google to search for information on issues surrounding presidential elections. That Google practice was later corroborated by an independent study by the Wall Street Journal says DuckDuckGo. Google has claimed that it has taken steps to reduce the filter bubble problem, so DuckDuckGo set out to determine if things were better with search results.

It found that most of the participants in its study saw search results that were unique to them. DuckDuckGo wrote, "These discrepancies could not be explained by changes in location, time, by being logged in to Google, or by Google testing algorithm changes to a small subset of users." On the first page of search results, the study found that Google included links for some participants that it didn't include for others, even if they were logged out or in a private browser mode.

Results returned in the news and videos infoboxes varied, and despite the people searching at the same time, the participants were shown different sources even after accounting for location. The most disturbing finding in the study was that even in private browsing modes or when logged out, Google offered "very little filter bubble protection." The anonymity that people expected with private browser modes or being logged out wasn't delivered. The result of the study is the determination that "it's simply not possible to use Google search and avoid its filter bubble." This study seems to show that while Google is making moves to allow users to delete their personal information when desired, the search giant still has a problem delivering on the privacy users expect.