Google: Shaping our Lives?

By Ian Otto, guest writer

Think back to the last time you used your phone or tablet to find a piece of information on the internet. Chances are you used Google to get those results. In fact in a recent study, Google was used 67.5% of the time while the next closest search engine, Bing, was only used for 18.4% of searches. In most cases, Google is a fantastic source of information, providing a quick and easy-to-use interface. At the same time, Google also holds a lot of power, and could easily remove or “re-rank” search results.

The way Google determines a page’s “PageRank” could almost be a college course. Many sites have been dedicated to determining the secret to making a page higher ranked than another. Most people assume that rank is mainly based on keywords, and for the most part it is, but many other calculations such as total viewership (the ratio of people who saw a result to the ones who actually clicked it) also come in to play.

This poses a very serious question: could Google potentially change this algorithm to shape how we view the world, and what we think? It would be a relatively simple change on Google’s part; they can change a page’s PageRank in order to make it appear higher in the search results.

This has happened before with changes made to the Youtube subscription box. Google noticed a flaw in their algorithm for determining which videos would be displayed to users, and they changed it. Almost overnight, viewership for some content creators dropped to almost nothing, and others rose to new heights.

This could easily correlate to the Google PageRank system. Sites that used to be easily searchable could become irrelevant in search and lose popularity. Sites that used to be irrelevant could now be completely relevant, which could also spread misinformation easily. Imagine searching for Wikipedia, and finding that the first result wasn’t Wikipedia, but a smaller, less relevant wiki.

In this way, Google actually holds a lot more power than many give them credit for. While it is unlikely for Google to change the rankings on their own, they have shown in the past that they will listen to direct requests made by the government.

In essence, it’s the same tale you’ve heard over and over. Don’t get all your information from the same place. Use another search engine like Bing, Yahoo, or AOL to confirm the information you may have received from Google (or vice versa). That way you can be sure that the data you get isn’t prioritized for one point of view.

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