Google search results became cluttered. If you open up the world most–used search engine and search for “small apartment sofa”, you’ll come across a few ads showing fancy corner apartments, and then some general questions people ask (“what’s the name of the extra small sofa?”). A few scrolls down the page and you will be taken to the actual search results. There will be some differences depending on where you are in the world, your search history and other factors, but basically you get the same results as everyone else.
Now, the privacy-focused web browser and search engine Brave are trying to open up this opaque, SEO-focused world of algorithm-controlled search results. Starting today Brave is changing its search engine out of beta and testing a new tool that allows you to customize search results. Called Goggles, these tools allow you to reorder web pages that appear at the top of search results by applying a series of filters to them.
For example, Goggle (not to be confused with Google) can remove Pinterest pages from search results; it can only show results from tech blogs or promote articles from left or right political news sources. Basically, they make you responsible for the search results you see. This step is the first for the search engine. “Goggles represents a fundamental push towards algorithmic transparency and openness in search,” says Josep M. Pujol, head of search at Brave. However, it also raises questions about the effect of filter bubbles on search results.
Exactly how search engines work is a closely guarded secret, ostensibly to prevent website operators from cheating the system. In general, search engines use web crawlers that crawl and index pages on the Internet and then rank them based on potentially hundreds of different factors. Those who score high appear at the top of the search results.
“The ranking that takes place is both private and invisible,” says Belinda Barnet, Senior Lecturer in Media at Swinburne University, Australia. Brave’s Goggles doesn’t open up its own search algorithms or make its search index transparent, but it does give people more options to search. “The glasses would be kind of a little intervention, a way to make the invisible visible, in particular for Brave users,” Barnet says.
Glasses sit side by side General Brave search option, Pujol says, and are not meant to be a complete replacement for general search. However, the general idea of Goggles is easy to understand. Click on a search term and a Goggles tab will appear next to the results for images, videos, and news. It works by applying a series of filters and rules to the displayed search results. If you use Goggles to exclude results from the top 1000 most visited sites on the web, any URLs from those sites will not appear in your search results.
“Goggles are simple, self-contained text files that can be placed anywhere,” Pujol says. “These files contain instructions that define a re-ranger with a specific syntax.” Pujol adds that when using Goggle, the search engine will generate a “very large” set of results and then filter out those that don’t fit.
Anyone can create or modify Goggle. However, when it launched the beta, Brave created eight different glasses as an example. (Says they will be removed as soon as people create their own). Examples include Goggles to re-rank search results to remove copycat pages, remove top 1000 website search results, boost content found on tech blogs, and more.
Pujol says Brave created the Goggles, which she first talked about in White Paper 2021– try to eliminate bias in search results, including Brave search, and give people more choice. “Bias is everywhere: underlying data, which sites are easier to crawl, which models are chosen, feature selection, presentation bias, popularity—the list is endless,” Pujol says. Very difficult, if not impossible, remove all biases from search results.
“Goggles will enable the creation of multiple universes in which users can search,” says Uri Gal, Professor of Business Information Systems at the University of Sydney. Gal adds that the move is welcome in a search market that “has seen neither innovation nor competition” in the last couple of decades. “This will reduce the risk that people will get a single view of reality — or that part of reality that they are interested in — created and maintained by a single platform (for example, Google, Facebook) based on their own algorithms,” says Gal.
Brave knows that people can use Goggles to reinforce their world view and filter out topics that fit their existing beliefs. At the time of its launch, AllSides, an American company that rates media organizations on their political bias, has created both right-wing and left-wing political scores. “We believe in freedom of speech, and therefore it is not up to us to decide what is right and what is not,” says Pujol. “The person using the Goggles is making a conscious action while using the Goggles, and opposing points of view should be readily available. This clarity alone is an improvement over the current landscape where these kinds of changes are made without the user’s awareness.”
Brave says it will treat Goggles the same way it treats all web results and “do not censor or control them” unless required by law, such as removing cases of child sexual abuse.
However, there are questions about how this will work in reality. “Exercising control over bias is an action for the thoughtful,” says Bart Willemsen, vice president, privacy analyst at Gartner, who adds that he hopes Goggles can deliver positive results. “With the abundance of information available, including misinformation and misinformation, getting the right idea of what is considered important and what is not, or even untrue, is a huge challenge,” Willemsen says.
Despite Google’s dominance, there is a thriving market for privacy-focused alternative search engineswho claim not to track users or use their personal information for creepy ads. This includes Brave, which launched its search in beta last year. Others include all with slightly different privacy statements and ways of working—DuckDuckGo, StartPage, and Mojeek. (DuckDuckGo uses Bing to improve search results, and StartPage is based on Google.) While there are billions of searches performed every year with Google alternatives, it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to Google’s dominance.
Search results that show companies, although based on a variety of factors, can be inconsistent. Companies may face difficulties in distributing political content and issues related to freedom of speech. October 2021 Twitter recognized his algorithm strengthens right-wing politicians more than left-wing ones. Recently, the far right complained that DuckDuckGo limited Russian propaganda, although its results are provided in part by Microsoft Bing. In contrast, one 2019 study by researchers at Stanford University found that Google search results did not support any political wing.
When Brave pitched its Goggles idea in 2021, it said it would open a proposal to include Goggles on any other search engine. So far, according to Pujol, there has been no talk about it. And big changes in the status quo may be unlikely. “I don’t see Google or any other major platform integrating user-defined Goggles,” Barnet says. “This will affect how they personalize ads for you and how they collect data about your activity to serve those ads. In other words, it will interfere with their business model.”
Credit: www.wired.com /