For Internet searching, roughly 65% of computer users turn to Google. To see the popularity of Google, one has to look no further than ‘Google’ being 'declared' a verb by Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. How is that for official proof that Google is big in the search world and winning prominence?
In its path to verbification, Google has gone through different iterations in its rise to search engine fame. Along the way, Google created what is called universal search. Universal search, from a user’s point of view, makes the front page of Google very clean and simple. Simply type in what you are searching for, hit the search button, and the results start flowing onto your computer screen.
On the technical side, universal search means Google is not asking users to choose a limited media type such as news, videos, blogs, books, etc. but returns a mixed result set to the user that incorporates items from a variety of media sources. Sounds great for simplicity. A user does not have to think about whether news or blogs or books would be the best locale in which to search. They can let Google do the thinking.
"Thinking" for computers is, of course, a misnomer. Computers ‘think’ to the level at which they are programmed to act upon data. It is this programming behind Google's search service that Consumer Watch Dog takes issue with. In their Inside Google Study, the consumer watchdog group accuses Google of creating a monopoly by biasing search results.
The study found that “since adopting “Universal Search,” which favors Google’s properties with prominent listings in its results, traffic to Google’s sites has soared at the expense of competitors.” How might this translate for you? It would mean the search results waiting for you on your screen are filled with links to Google's properties over competitors whenever possible: MapQuest and Vimeo are out, Google Maps and YouTube are in. The study links Google’s rising market share to its competitors' drop in use since universal search hit the Internet. Does it matter if you have not heard of Vimeo or other websites? Well there is a difference between censoring and biasing, but the line is thin.
Users go to Google thinking they will get a fair return to a search query. Censoring by omission to invisibly promote Google-owned properties over others warps the information landscape. If, as users, we do not know our information is being intentionally limited and we do not have equal access to the information that has been held back, we are in effect suffering the effects of censorship. Wouldn’t you rather choose your own limits?
Check out these books from the library to read more about the Google era: