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[This article is originally published in searchengineland.com written by Barry Schwartz - Uploaded by AIRS Member: Grace Irwin]

New markup from Schema.org including HowTo, QAPage, and FAQPage can be used to potentially show your content in Google in a brand-new way. Google previewed this in Singapore a couple of weeks ago

Google has confirmed with Search Engine Land that it has been testing for the past several months a new form of search results snippets: the way the search results appear to searchers. These new search snippets are in the form of FAQs or frequently asked questions, Q&A (questions & answers) and How-Tos.

Akhil Agarwal notified us about this feature on Twitter, and Google has just sent us a statement explaining the test. Here is the screenshot presented at a recent Google event in Singapore:

Google FAQs QA and How Tos

A Google Spokesperson told us:

We’re always looking for new ways to provide the most relevant, useful results for our users. We’ve recently introduced new ways to help users understand whether responses on a given Q&A or forum site could have the best answer for their question. By bringing a preview of these answers onto Search, we’re helping our users more quickly identify which source is most likely to have the information they’re looking for. We’re currently working with partners to experiment with ways to surface similar previews for FAQ and How-to content.

These new snippet features give more insights into what the searcher can expect from that web page before deciding to click on the search result. Webmasters should be able to mark up their content with structured data and to have their search results be eligible to have question-and-answer previews shown — similar to how supporting metadata around the number of upvotes and the Top Answer feature works.

Google will soon open up an interest form to allow publishers and webmasters to participate in the FAQ and How-to formats shown in the screenshot above.

But if you review the Schema.org website, you can find a lot of this markup available already, including HowTo markupQA page markup, and FAQ markup. So if you want to get started early, consider adding the appropriate markup to the sections of your HTML.

Categorized in Search Engine

[This article is originally published in searchengineland.com written by Amy Gesenhues - Uploaded by AIRS Member: Carol R. Venuti]

Users no longer have to go to their Google Account page to access privacy controls

Google updated its user privacy controls on Wednesday, allowing users to delete their search activity — and control the ads the see — directly from the Google Search home page both on desktop and the mobile web, as well as from the Google Search iOS app.

As long as a user is signed into their account, they will be able to access their search data without having to go to their Google Account page and click through to the “Personal info & privacy” settings. On the mobile web experience, “Your data in Search” will be a persistent menu item on the home page as well as on results pages.

Google search data

Why search marketers should care

Since news broke that Cambridge Analytica had used an app to harvest and exploit Facebook user data and then the later launch of the EU’s GDPR legislation, Google and other popular online platforms have been forced to pay more attention to how they store user data and be more transparent about how that data is used for ad targeting purposes.

While this latest update from Google is a step in the right direction in terms of user privacy, advertisers could be impacted in two ways. First, it’s now easier for users to delete and control their search data, making it more difficult to target ads to them. Second, users will be able to react more quickly to ads they don’t want to see. One could argue that such controls would help advertisers avoid serving ads to likely unresponsive audiences, therefore allowing them to focus on more receptive individuals.

“To control the ads you see when you search, we give you access to your Ad Settings. Additionally, you can access your Activity Controls to decide what information Google saves to your account and uses to make Search and other Google services faster, smarter and more useful,” writes Google’s director of product management, Eric Miraglia.

your data in search

Giving users more direct access to control what information Google saves will potentially limit available ad targeting data. But, whether or not such efforts will impact advertisers will depend on how readily users avail themselves of these privacy tools. Certainly, having a call-to-action on its desktop home page, and a menu option within the mobile experience, will make this more top-of-mind for Google searchers.

More on Google’s latest user privacy control updates

  • The updates are rolling out on desktop, mobile web and the Google Search app for iOS on Wednesday, but won’t be available on the Android app until the coming weeks.
  • Google says it plans to expand these privacy control efforts to Google Maps in 2019, followed by releases in “many” other Google products.
  • In addition to being able to delete recent search activity, control ad settings and have access to Activity Controls, users will also see a “How activity data makes Search work” message aimed at educating them on how their settings and activity on Google impact search results.

Categorized in Search Engine

[This article is originally published in searchengineland.com written by Amy Gesenhues - Uploaded by AIRS Member: Rene Meyer]

Google announced today that it is changing the way it labels country services on the mobile web, Google app for iOS and desktop Search and Maps.

According to Google, one in five searches is now location-related. To make search results more relevant, Google says the country of service will no longer be indicated by the country code top-level domain name (ccTLD) such as “google.co.uk” for the UK or “google.com.br” for Brazil, but instead will default to the country where the user is performing the search.

From the Google Search Blog:

  • So if you live in Australia, you’ll automatically receive the country service for Australia, but when you travel to New Zealand, your results will switch automatically to the country service for New Zealand. Upon return to Australia, you will seamlessly revert back to the Australian country service.

google search countryGoogle says that typing the relevant ccTLD into a browser will no longer return various country services. Instead, users must go into their settings and select the correct country service if they don’t see the country they want while browsing.

“This preference should be managed directly in settings. In addition, at the bottom of the search results page, you can clearly see which country service you are currently using,” writes Google.

Google says this latest update will improve the search experience by automatically providing users “… the most useful information based on your search query and other context, including location.”

Categorized in Search Engine

[This article is originally published in searchengineland.com written by Stephan Spencer - Uploaded by AIRS Member: Anthony Frank]

There’s no perfect method to snagging the top overall search result for every relevant query, but columnist Stephan Spencer believes understanding each element of Google's search listings can give you the best chance for success.

Are you looking to dominate in Google search results?

Your strategy needs to involve more than keyword research and a savvy AdWords campaign. In order to make the most of your Google presence, you need to craft a search result that entices users to click through to your web page. This is a crucial yet often-ignored aspect of SEO.

Believe it or not, small changes to your Google listing can make a big difference when it comes to click-through rate. Here is a detailed guide to better understanding a basic Google search listing.

Title

It’s no secret that page titles can heavily influence user behavior. But did you know that Google doesn’t always show a web page’s title tag? The title that appears in search results might be influenced by several factors. Google looks to find titles that are short, descriptive and relevant to search queries. Though they most commonly use a page’s title tag, they can also pull from page content or links pointing to the page. Try to keep your title tag short, and provide context to users in order for it to be displayed.

Is your title is being cut off in the Google search results? You might need to shorten it. The maximum length for a title tag is 600 pixels, which is about 70 characters (78 for mobile); otherwise, Google will truncate it. Truncated titles are indicated by an ellipsis.

Anatomy of a Google Search Listing 1

URL

You may have noticed that Google often omits parts of a URL. Google truncates URLs by removing their middle sections, even when the URL is only one line. Use short but meaningful URLs whenever possible to maximize their impact in the Google SERPs (search engine results pages).

Anatomy of a Google Search Listing 2

The URL is often displayed as clickable breadcrumb links. In these instances, Google displays the site’s internal hierarchical linking structure from the on-page breadcrumb navigation when those breadcrumbs are marked up using breadcrumb semantic markup.

Anatomy of a Google Search Listing 3

Google search listings may also include time stamps under their URL. This is a common practice for news publishers, blogs and other sites that wish to bring attention to the freshness of their content and provide the date of publication or date of last update.

Anatomy of a Google Search Listing 4

To integrate this, you need to add a time stamp into your page copy. You can provide Google with specific times by adding comment tags through the W3 Total Cache plugin for WordPress, which will appear something like this: Served from user @ 2017-03-03 17:15:25.

You can also manually add a time tag to a page or blog post using structured data markup. Otherwise, Google will use the publication date, which is easy for Google to determine with WordPress blogs.

Here is an example of the structured data HTML markup:

Anatomy of a Google Search Listing 5

Cached link

The cached link is a fail-safe in case your website is unavailable; it is a snapshot that Google takes of each page and adds to its cache. It also serves as a backup in case a page is deleted, temporarily down or failing to load.

Google has made changes to the Cached link location in recent years. Cached links are now stored next to the URL in a green down arrow.

Anatomy of a Google Search Listing 6

The cached link will be missing for sites that have not been indexed, as well as for sites whose owners have requested that Google not cache their content. Owners can block their page from being cached by using a meta-robots “noarchive” tag.

What’s the benefit of doing this? For one thing, it can prevent users from copying your content for redistribution; people can still copy and paste content from a cached page even if you’ve blocked these functions on your site. Sites with paid content often block cached pages to prevent their content from being seen for free. Fortunately for them, pages being cached or not by Google have no bearing on the overall ranking.

Snippet

A snippet is a description for the page that appears underneath the title. Google can obtain the snippet from either the page’s meta description tag or contextual information on the page. Like titles, the search snippet is based on the query and can be altered by different keyword searches.

For example, in a search for “meta description,” the snippet below is returned for the yoast.com search result.

Anatomy of a Google Search Listing 7

Searching for “160 character snippet” in Google returns a very different snippet for a search result for the same page as above.

Anatomy of a Google Search Listing 8

Keyword bolding (known by us information retrieval geeks as “Keywords in Context” or KWIC) is also query-based and will often appear in the snippet, depending on the search term

Anatomy of a Google Search Listing 9

Google currently limits a snippet to around 156 characters per search result (or 141 with a date stamp). The actual limit, in terms of a total pixel width, is 928 pixels (based on 13px Arial). Snippets will be truncated and end with ellipses when they run over this limit.

Anatomy of a Google Search Listing 10

Often, Google will choose not to use a meta description in favor of a more relevant snippet. The snippet can come from anywhere on your page (including disparate parts of the page), so it’s important to pay close attention to your content — especially around common keywords.

It’s still worth it to carefully craft a meta description. In many cases, Google will still show a quality meta description for popular searches. What makes it a quality meta description? It’s well-written, includes popular search terms and avoids redundant information, such as repetition of the title tag. Since the snippet is query-based, you need to incorporate popular, relevant search terms into both your meta description and your on-page content.

There are also times when a snippet does not appear. Why does this happen? It’s because that URL is blocked using a disallow in the site’s robots.txt file. In such cases, Google will display a message in the snippet’s place stating, “A description for this result is not available because of this site’s robots.txt.”

Anatomy of a Google Search Listing 11

You can prevent this with noindex instead of disallowing. That way, Google can still crawl the page, but it will not add it to its search engine index or display it in the SERPs.

Conversely, you can opt out of snippets by using the meta name="”googlebot”" co" />"tag on yur page.

Sitelinks

Google sitelinks are additional sub-listings that appear underneath the first search result. For instance, if a user were to search for “Search engine land,” this is what they would see:

Anatomy of a Google Search Listing 12

Sitelinks are intended to help users navigate around websites. In this instance, the user might want to jump to the latest industry news rather than navigating through Search Engine Land’s home page.

You might have noticed a “more results” feature in the above screenshot. This restricts the results to only coming from indexed pages on that specific site. In this example, the More results from searchengineland.com >> link leads to a refined search of just pages on searchengineland.com for the query “Search engine land.” This is accomplished using the Google site: search operator.

Anatomy of a Google Search Listing 13

Google allows up to six automated sitelinks, but they are far from guaranteed for poorly optimized sites. Websites with a clear hierarchy and structure and a unique brand name are more likely to have sitelinks. As a result, you’re more likely to see sitelinks appear in search results after typing in a specific brand.

Anatomy of a Google Search Listing 14

You’ll notice that in this instance, a search for The New York Times renders both sitelinks and a search box. If you wish to include a search engine, you can do so by embedding structured data on your website.

Though the system is automated, the best way to get sitelinks is to reach the top overall position for your website name. A downside to using different domains (or subdomains) in your web strategy is that they won’t be included in the sitelinks. Still, the impact of sitelinks is undeniable. AdWords advertisers with sitelinks see a 20-50 percent boost in click-through rate when the search is a branded term.

Final thoughts

Small changes to a search result can have a big impact on a site’s traffic. Google search is an ever-evolving science, so rules that exist today might not exist tomorrow. For the time being, you can follow this guide to help improve your presence in the Google SERPs.

Categorized in Search Engine

[This article is originally published in bbc.com - Uploaded by AIRS Member: Bridget Miller]

Police found an internet search for "Scotland serial killers" during an investigation into two women charged with murdering a disabled woman.

Officers also discovered checks for "Peter Tobin" and "Peter Manuel".

There was further research online for how long "the integrity of a crime scene" is kept.

They were found after the body of Sharon Greenop was discovered at her home in Troon, South Ayrshire, in November 2016.

Her sister Lynnette Greenop, 40, and her daughter Shayla Greenop, 20, are accused of her murder. They deny the charges.

It is claimed Sharon Greenop was assaulted on various occasions between 8 September and 10 November 2016.

The High Court in Glasgow heard police examined two Samsung phones during the investigation.

Number of victims

The jury was previously told Shayla Greenop had earlier handed over a mobile voluntarily.

Police Scotland's Cyber Crime Unit carried out checks on phones, including what had been accessed online.

The trial heard there had been an internet search for "Scotland serial killers".

A check of the web history further revealed a number of sites had been looked at.

This included a search on Wikipedia for "Peter Manuel".

Amongst other names were "Peter Tobin", "Robert Black" and "Archibald Hall".

A further check was for a "list of serial killers by number of victims".

Other searches included "How long is the integrity of a crime scene kept" and "How long to complete an adult adoption".

Bloodstains in bedroom

The trial also heard on Monday from a forensic scientist who said that blood spots matching the DNA of Sharon Greenop were found on a wall beside her bed and on a mattress protector.

James Hawkins said he visited the Greenop's home along with a pathologist and police officers while Sharon Greenop's body was still in the bed.

He examined the bedroom for bloodstains.

He told prosecutor Ashlie Edwards that a small piece of body tissue with clotted blood and a single hair on it was also discovered in the bedroom. This also matched her DNA.

Referring to the bloodstains Mr Hawkins told the court: "In my opinion this could be explained by Sharon Greenop having been repeatedly struck whilst bleeding and lying on the bed."

Defense QC Frances McMenamin, representing Lynette Greenop, asked Mr Hawkins: "You can't say when that blood or DNA was deposited," and he replied: "No, that's not possible."

The jury heard that the rest of the house was also examined for bloodstains and none were found.

The murder charge alleges Sharon Greenop was repeatedly struck with object or objects and had her neck compressed.

It is said injuries were also inflicted "by means unknown" and that there was a failure to obtain medical help.

The two accused, who both live in Ayr, deny all charges.

The trial, before Lady Carmichael, continues.

Categorized in Investigative Research

[This article is originally published in thenextweb.com written by IVAN MEHTA - Uploaded by AIRS Member: Dana W. Jimenez] 

Google has launched a dedicated dataset search website to help journalists and researchers unearth publicly available data that can aid in their projects. Traditionally, researchers have relied on sources like the World Bank, NASA, and ProPublica or search engines like Kaggle. This new tool will make their work much easier.

The website takes Google’s familiar approach and design for search and applies it to datasets published across the web. So if you need to look at historical weather trends, you can use a simple query like “daily weather” to begin your research. Plus, the engine supports shortcuts that work on Google’s regular search tool, like ‘weather site:noaa.gov’ to retrieve results only from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agency in the US

The company explained that the new tool scrapes government databases, public sources, digital libraries, and personal websites to track down the datasets you’re looking for. If they’re structured using schema.org’s markup or similar equivalents described by the W3C, Google can find it. It already supports multiple languages and will add support for more of them soon.

This year, Google has focused on a lot of initiatives directed towards journalists. In July, it had rolled out an improved representation of tabular data in search results. In India, it has launched a program to train journalists to identify misinformation. And at its developer conference earlier this year, it rolled out a revamped Google News with improved personalization and discovery features.

Categorized in Search Engine

[This article is originally published in thenextweb.com written by Barry Schwartz - Uploaded by AIRS Member: Mercedes J. Steinman]

Dan Shure spotted late on Friday Google search tests where Google was showing jobs, like Google's own job search portal. Dan posted many many screenshots on Twitter and I immediately covered it on Search Engine Land.

Google then sent us this statement:

While we don’t have any news to announce at this time, we’re always looking for new ways to improve the Search experience for our users, whether they’re looking for movies to see, recipes to make, or job opportunities.

Google does have this Google Hire portal that is locked down. Is it related, maybe?

Let me share Dan's screenshots:

Query: [jobs online] 

google job online

It can go by industry as well:

It can go by industry as well

Or by locale:

Or by locale

When you click in to view more you get a Google Local like interface:

When you click in to view more you get a Google Local like interface

I bet job search portals are a bit nervous right now...

Categorized in Search Engine

[This article is originally published in howtogeek.com written by CHRIS HOFFMAN - Uploaded by AIRS Member: Olivia Russell]

Experian and many other companies are pushing “dark web scans.” They promise to search the dark web for your personal information to see if criminals are selling it. Don’t waste your money.

What is the Dark Web?

The “dark web” consists of hidden websites that you can’t access without special software. These websites won’t appear when you use Google or another search engine, and you can’t even access them unless you go out of your way to use the appropriate tools.

For example, the Tor software can be used for anonymous browsing of the normal web, but it also hides special sites known as “.onion sites” or “Tor hidden services.” These websites use Tor to cloak their location, and you only access them through the Tor network.

 What is the Dark Web

There are legitimate uses for Tor hidden services. For example, Facebook offers a Tor .onion site at facebookcorewwwi.onion, which you can only access while connected to Tor. This allows people in countries where Facebook is blocked to access Facebook. The DuckDuckGo search engine is available at a Tor hidden service address, too. This could also help evade government censorship.

But the dark web is also used for criminal activities. If you’re going to sell databases of people’s credit card and social security numbers online, you want to hide your location so the authorities won’t swoop in. That’s why criminals often sell this data on the dark web. It’s the same reason why the infamous Silk Road website, an online black market for drugs and other illicit things, was only available through Tor.

They’re Not Scanning the Entire Dark Web

Let’s get one thing straight: These services are not scanning the entire dark web for your data. That’s just impossible.

There are 1,208,925,819,614,629,174,706,176 possible site addresses on the dark web, and that’s just counting Tor .onion sites. It wouldn’t be possible to check each one to see if they’re online and then also look for your data on them.

Even if these services were scanning the entirety of the public dark web—which they’re not—they wouldn’t be able to see the exclusive stuff anyway. That would be exchanged privately and not made public.

What Does a “Dark Web Scan” Do, Then?

No company that offers a “dark web scan” will tell you what they do, but we can certainly make an informed guess. These companies are gathering data dumps made public on popular websites on the dark web.

When we say “data dumps,” we’re referring to big databases of usernames and passwords—as well as other personal information, like social security numbers and credit card details—that are stolen from compromised websites and released online.

Rather than scanning the dark web, they’re scanning lists of leaked passwords and personal information—which, admittedly, are often found on the dark web. They’ll then inform you if your personal information is found on one of the lists they could get their hands on.

However, even if a dark web scan says you’re fine, you might not be—they’re only searching the publicly available leaks to which they have access. They can’t scan everything out there.

How to Monitor Data Breaches for Free

How to Monitor Data Breaches for Free

Behind all the “dark web scan” hype, there’s a somewhat useful service here. But, guess what: You can already do much of this for free.

Troy Hunt’s Have I Been Pwned? will tell you whether your email address or password appears in one of 322 (and counting) data dumps from websites. You can also have it notify you when your email address appears in a new data dump.

This service doesn’t scan to see if your social security number is included in any of these leaks, as dark web scans promise to do. But, if you’re just looking to see if your credentials have leaked, it’s a useful service.

As always, it’s a good idea to use unique passwords everywhere. That way, even if your email address and password from one website appear in a leak, criminals can’t just try that combination on other websites to gain access to your accounts. A password manager can remember all those unique passwords for you.

Face the Facts: Your Data Is Already Stolen

You might still be thinking a dark web scan could be useful. After all, it tells you whether your social security number appears in any data dumps. That’s useful, right?

Well, not necessarily. Look, you should probably assume that your social security number has already been compromised and criminals can access it if they like. That’s the harsh truth.

Huge breaches have been coming hard and fast. Equifax leaked 145.5 million social security numbers. Anthem leaked the information of 78.8 million people, including social security numbers. The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) leaked sensitive information on 21.5 million people, too—again, including social security numbers.

Those are just a few examples. There have been many other leaks over the years—a few million here, a few hundred thousand there. And that’s just the data breaches that have been publicly reported. Statistically speaking, most Americans have probably had their social security numbers leaked in at least one of these data breaches by now. The genie is out of the bottle.

Freeze Your Credit; It’s Free Now

Freeze Your Credit Its Free Now

If you’re concerned about someone abusing your social security number, we recommend freezing your credit reports. Credit freezes (and unfreezes) are now free across the entire USA.

When you freeze your credit, you’re preventing people from opening new credit in your name. Any lending institution won’t be able to pull your credit until you unfreeze it or provide a PIN. You can temporarily unfreeze your credit when you want to apply for credit—for example, when you’re applying for a credit card, car loan, or mortgage. But a criminal shouldn’t be able to apply for credit with your personal information if your credit reports are frozen.

We recommend just freezing your credit reports and skipping the dark web scan. Unlike a dark web scan, credit freezes are free. They also do something—even if your social security number is found in a dark web scan, all you can do is freeze your credit anyway. And criminals might get their hands on your social security number even if it doesn’t appear in a dark web scan.

Categorized in Deep Web

[This article is originally published in choice.com.au  - Uploaded by AIRS Member: Jay Harris]

Do you search the web for information, or do you just 'Google it'? Such is the popularity of Google's web search engine that it's become a household word and the default go-to for finding any information online. But you can do it better and we can show you how.

  • Why Google?
  • Boolean for you – search shortcuts
  • Reverse image search
  • Even Google can get it wrong
  • What about privacy?
  • Snoop-free searches
  • Alternative search engines
Whether you use text or image search, knowing a little more about how to use search terms can find your results faster and more accurately in Google and other search engines (yes, they exist – hello Bing and Duckduckgo).

Why Google?

Google is the world's most powerful and pervasive search engine. The company synonymous with search commands a staggering 93% of the Australian search market. Its nearest competitor, Microsoft's Bing, has just under 5% of the market, with others picking up the crumbs.

There are plenty of hidden ways to improve a Google search to ensure you get the fastest and most accurate results, as well as reasons to be wary of the search giant.

The best way to get the results you want is to keep your search simple and trust Google's algorithm. Searching for "time in San Francisco" or "weather in Sydney" will return immediate results.

 

Privacy concerns aside, for the moment (more on that later), the more Google knows about you, the better results it gives. So, if you allow Google to know your location, it can use that information to better guess the results you're after. For example, a search on "USD $10" will provide an instant conversion to Australian dollars, while a search on "5 foot 6" will show the same measurement in meters. 

Boolean for you – search shortcuts

If you want to go further, Google has shortcuts that will improve the speed and accuracy of your searches. Common examples are using the 'operators' AND, OR and NOT to refine your search by combining or limiting terms. These shortcuts are technically called 'boolean operators', a fun fact for your next dinner party.

A few quick shortcuts to remember: 
  • Quotation marks Using quotation marks around a phrase will limit your search to that exact phrase. A search for amazing spiderman will return results with those three words used anywhere, in any context. A search for "amazing spiderman" will only return results with that exact phrase. 
  • Google search a specific site A search of site:choice.com.au washing machines will only return results from CHOICE. 
  • Remove words to narrow a search with the minus sign A search of jaguar speed -car will exclude results containing the animal but not the prestige vehicle. 
  • Use asterisk as a wildcard If you're looking for a phrase but aren't sure of every word, "these are not the * you're looking for" should return the results you're after. 
Google continually improves its search to make these commands simpler, or in some cases unnecessary, so today a search for "eiffel tower wiki" will return the same information as "site:wikipedia.org eiffel tower".

Reverse image search 

One of the most amazing, little-known features of Google Image Search is the Reverse Image Search feature. Simply click on the camera icon in the search bar to upload an image on your computer, and Google will scan and analyse the image and try to identify what's in the frame. 

Search by image

When searching for an image with Google, you have the ability to filter your results based on some powerful criteria. Just click on the Tools button underneath the search bar, and from there you'll see a few hidden dropdown menus allowing you to specify the size, colour, type, time and usage rights of your results. 

Google reverse search

Two options worth exploring are usage rights and color. From the Usage Rights menu, you can filter images by their license. "Reuse with modification" means you can take the image, edit it, and reuse it on a website or in a PowerPoint presentation. Noncommercial reuse will still allow you to use the image, but as the name suggests, you'll be limited to using the image in educational or not-for-profit situations. 

These classifications are based on the Creative Commons license, so it's worth clicking through on your results to confirm Google is giving you the correct licensing information, and whether you need to attribute the original creator in your work.

creative commons

Searching for an image with the color filter of yellow will unsurprisingly return images that are predominantly yellow. This becomes powerful when you're collecting multiple images for a PowerPoint presentation or website, and you want a uniform color to evoke a certain emotion, or to fit in with your corporate branding.

Colour search

Even Google can get it wrong

Despite Google's dominant market share and wealth of talent, even it can make some embarrassing mistakes in search results. Google has found itself caught up in its own fake news controversies of late, declaring Donald Trump the winner of not just the electoral college but the popular vote in the 2016 election, and stating there is no coral bleaching happening on the Great Barrier Reef.

Google has long battled with users gaming its algorithm, mainly to rank higher in search for commercial purposes, but more recently to infect the autocomplete results with hateful information, or to promote false claims.

What makes these mistakes even more disturbing is it is these "instant answers" and "news snippets" that power the voice search of Google's Home Assistant. Without the context of a screen, attribution, and a page of conflicting results underneath, Home's voice answers, no matter how wrong, can sound authoritative.

Privacy trade-off

There are many reasons to choose an alternative to Google, the least of which is its frightening monopoly on search. Google may have the stated mission of "organising the world's information", but it's worth remembering Google makes money off advertising, and part of the company's tremendous success in this area is due to the tracking and profiling it does on its users.
 

 

  


Every search you perform on Google is registered against your IP address – giving Google the ability to create a simple snapshot of who you are, where you live and what your interests are. If you're signed into any of Google's other services – Maps, YouTube, Gmail – then Google has an account to assign that IP address and all data coming from it, further fleshing out their profile of you.  

Once Google knows who you are, it will follow you around the internet, thanks to the cookies and Google Ads that adorn almost every popular page. As a general rule, if you can see ads on a website, those ads can see you too and have followed you across the web. 

Even more, if you use an Android phone, Google almost certainly has all your physical location history from the last few years, unless you've specifically asked your phone not to track you. iPhone users are asked to share this same location information when installing any of Google's suite of apps – yes, even the YouTube app will ask you for your location. 

This might all sound a little creepy, but this is the deal we make with Google to access its services for free. And, of course, you can choose not to. I use Google Photos, even though Google scans every image I give it to train its machine-learning robots and extract location information about me because the service is excellent and the search is incredible. Likewise Gmail and Google Maps. 

If you'd like to continue to use Google search, but want to keep your privacy intact, there are quite a few steps you'll need to take. Sadly, using your browser's privacy mode is not enough. Private Browsing or Incognito Mode is really designed to hide your search and browser history from someone looking at your browser or phone after you, not to hide your history from Google, Facebook, or anyone else that makes money tracking you across the web. The problem is that your IP address (your unique location identifier on the internet) is still shown, so even though cookies are not collected, Google can guess the searches are coming from you. 

To go truly private, you'll need to use Google only in a browser that's not logged in to any Google services – including YouTube, Maps, Gmail. Next, use a plugin like Ghostery or Privacy Badger, which will disable Google's (and anyone else's) tracking from website to website. Finally, you may wish to do all browsing behind a VPN service that will cloak your IP address from external eyes. 

Snoop-free searches

If all of this sounds like too much work, there are alternatives. DuckDuckGo launched back in 2008 as the Google alternative for the privacy-conscious. The service promises to never track your searches, and more importantly, it doesn't follow you around the internet as Google does. DuckDuckGo was relatively unknown until Apple promoted it to a default search option in iOS 8, on par with Google, back in 2014. DuckDuckGo supports many of the shortcuts Google does and returns equally good results on more broad searches – topics like historical figures and places of interest, for example. 

Snoop fre searches

DuckDuckGo even has its own instant answers and display cards for results like flight numbers, the weather, word definitions, and movie trivia. Where it falls short is in the guesswork and personalization Google does so well; in knowing when you search for a chemist, you probably want your local chemist, when searching a flight number, you might want to see your upcoming flights, and when searching for a movie, the nearest session time to you. 

As an experiment, it's worth using DuckDuckGo exclusively for a week to see how much you rely on Google and everything it knows about you. You may find your searches improve once you step out of the feedback loop of Google, or you may realize how much of your privacy you're willing to trade for instant results.

Alternative search engines

  • Bing: Microsoft's answer to Google. The two search engines are on par in terms of features, but it's always worth supporting the underdog. And what a fascinating world it is where Microsoft is now the underdog. 
  • Wolfram Alpha: Prides itself on being an answers engine and was one of the first to support natural language queries like "how many days until Christmas", or "who wrote stairway to heaven?"
  • Mendeley: A search engine and app designed for students and academics that allows users to search on how many academic papers a result is featured in. The accompanying app allows researchers to easily collect sources for a final paper. 
  • Twitter search: Still the fastest way to find out what's happening with breaking news and events, although you will often need to wade through users jokes and 'hot takes' before you discover what's actually happening.

 

Categorized in Search Engine

[This article is originally published in scientificamerican.com written by Michael Shermer - Uploaded by AIRS Member: Jay Harris]

Google as a window into our private thoughts

What are the weirdest questions you've ever Googled? Mine might be (for my latest book): “How many people have ever lived?” “What do people think about just before death?” and “How many bits would it take to resurrect in a virtual reality everyone who ever lived?” (It's 10 to the power of 10123.) Using Google's autocomplete and Keyword Planner tools, U.K.-based Internet company Digitaloft generated a list of what it considers 20 of the craziest searches, including “Am I pregnant?” “Are aliens real?” “Why do men have nipples?” “Is the world flat?” and “Can a man get pregnant?”

 

This is all very entertaining, but according to economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, who worked at Google as a data scientist (he is now an op-ed writer for the New York Times), such searches may act as a “digital truth serum” for deeper and darker thoughts. As he explains in his book Everybody Lies (Dey Street Books, 2017), “In the pre-digital age, people hid their embarrassing thoughts from other people. In the digital age, they still hide them from other people, but not from the internet and in particular sites such as Google and PornHub, which protect their anonymity.” Employing big data research tools “allows us to finally see what people really want and really do, not what they say they want and say they do.”

People may tell pollsters that they are not racist, for example, and polling data do indicate that bigoted attitudes have been in steady decline for decades on such issues as interracial marriage, women's rights and gay marriage, indicating that conservatives today are more socially liberal than liberals were in the 1950s.

Using the Google Trends tool in analyzing the 2008 U.S. presidential election, however, Stephens-Davidowitz concluded that Barack Obama received fewer votes than expected in Democrat strongholds because of still latent racism. For example, he found that 20 percent of searches that included the N-word (hereafter, “n***”) also included the word “jokes” and that on Obama's first election night about one in 100 Google searches with “Obama” in them included “kkk” or “n***(s).”

“In some states, there were more searches for ‘[n***] president’ than ‘first black president,’” he reports—and the highest number of such searches were not predominantly from Southern Republican bastions as one might predict but included upstate New York, western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, industrial Michigan and rural Illinois. This difference between public polls and private thoughts, Stephens-Davidowitz observes, helps to explain Obama's underperformance in regions with a lot of racist searches and partially illuminates the surprise election of Donald Trump.

But before we conclude that the arc of the moral universe is slouching toward Gomorrah, a Google Trends search for “n*** jokes,” “bitch jokes” and “fag jokes” between 2004 and 2017, conducted by Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker and reported in his 2018 book Enlightenment Now, shows downward-plummeting lines of frequency of searches. “The curves,” he writes, “suggest that Americans are not just more abashed about confessing to prejudice than they used to be; they privately don't find it as amusing.”

More optimistically, these declines in prejudice may be an underestimate, given that when Google began keeping records of searches in 2004 most Googlers were urban and young, who are known to be less prejudiced and bigoted than rural and older people, who adopted the search technology years later (when the bigoted search lines were in steep decline). Stephens-Davidowitz confirms that such intolerant searches are clustered in regions with older and less educated populations and that compared with national searches, those from retirement neighborhoods are seven times as likely to include “n*** jokes” and 30 times as likely to contain “fag jokes.” Additionally, he found that someone who searches for “n***” is also likely to search for older-generation topics such as “Social Security” and “Frank Sinatra.”

What these data show is that the moral arc may not be bending toward justice as smoothly upward as we would like. But as members of the Silent Generation (born 1925–1945) and Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964) are displaced by Gen Xers (born 1965–1980) and Millennials (born 1981–1996), and as populations continue shifting from rural to urban living, and as postsecondary education levels keep climbing, such prejudices should be on the wane. And the moral sphere will expand toward greater inclusiveness.

Categorized in Search Engine

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