Google Delivers ‘Customized’ Search Results When Users Are Logged Out or Browsing Incognito, According to Study
At this point, it is common knowledge that Google has a metric ton of data on you. A study conducted by DuckDuckGo gives us some more insight into how search results are personalised, as well as how being logged out doesn’t count for anything. The study looked into the “filter bubble” which Google applies to search. This “bubble” affects Google search results with personalized content which is based on things such as your account activity, search history, and much more. It is reasonable to assume that one way to avoid this is by logging out of their account or simply browsing incognito. However, that doesn’t seem to do do the trick.
The study was conducted in June of 2018, and it revealed users still see personalized search results on Google, no matter what precautions they take to avoid the proverbial ‘filter bubble.’ We have to take the results of the findings with a pinch of salt, as DuckDuckGo is Google’s direct competitor and their findings may not be neutral, per se.
Using Incognito Mode makes little to no difference
The study focused on how search results vary even when users are logged out of a Google account and browsing in a private browsing mode (incognito). The study took three keywords, “gun control,” “immigration,” and “vaccinations” to pull these results with 76 participants. Users tested this in “normal” mode which was logged into a Google account, as well as logged out and in private browsing mode. “Gun control” saw 52/76 with unique results when in private mode and 45/76 when logged in. Immigration showed 43/76 as unique when logged out and 48/76 unique when logged in. “Vaccinations” actually had the same totals with 70/76 participants seeing unique results in either scenario.
It is obvious that Google still has personalized search results even when users are seemingly outside of the “filter bubble.” We have to bear in mind that search results can still vary based on time, location, and a few other factors. However, DuckDuckGo actually eliminated the time variable by searching at the same time. Further tests revealed that Google didn’t include some results in searches for the same keyword. Most participants saw some variation of a similar list of 10 domains, but others saw more or less, as well as seeing different orders to these results as illustrated below.
All in all, the study proves that Google’s ‘filter bubble’ is still real, despite the company stating otherwise last month. Once again, we have to take the results with a grain of salt as the study is conducted by a direct competitor. Additionally, the number of users in the sample set is insignificant, considering how many queries Google Search receives per second.