Google’s “Filter Bubble”: Search is Personalized Even When You’re in Incognito Mode, Says DuckDuckGo
Wait, what? But how is that possible?
Google is known for personalizing search results on the basis of location, previous searches, and various other factors. So, for anyone who wants to search discreetly without leaving behind a trace, which is the best option? Switch onto incognito, simple! Sadly, that’s what we thought too.
As of now, it was believed that searches made on Google are ‘discreet’, while you are in incognito mode or logged out of your account. A recent study by DuckDuckGo, a super-secure, privacy-focused search engine has revealed that Google search is personalized to users even if they are no longer logged in or browsing in incognito. The searches you thought to be private are not really private after all!
In the study by DuckDuckGo, they ran some tests in which the participants across the US searched for some controversial terms while they were in incognito mode or logged out of their Google account. Logically the results should have been similar, but they were uniquely tailored to the users instead.
The significant findings of the study can be summed up as:
- Even in private browsing or logged out, most people got results unique to them.
- Google results for some participants included links that were not included in the results for other participants. Being logged out of Google or incognito browsing offered almost zero protection against Google's "filter bubble".
- According to DuckDuckGo, “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.”
However, in their defense, a Google spokesperson has come forward saying: “This study’s methodology and conclusions are flawed since they are based on the assumption that any difference in search results are based on personalization. That is simply not true. In fact, there are a number of factors that can lead to slight differences, including time and location, which this study doesn’t appear to have controlled for effectively.”
Being Google’s competitor, there are odds that DuckDuckGo’s reports may be flawed or biased. However, the fact that it wasn’t long ago that Google had to clarify the role of incognito mode can’t be discounted. Also, in last six months, this is the second such report, so there are all the right reasons to be concerned about this “filter bubble”.