Google is behaving as if it knows exactly what you want to find in search results. Its ambition to predict what people want has resulted into some unusual side effects. And, the search topics are related to an issue as big as the presidential election! Recently, Wall Street Journal found that the search results Google presents are customized for “Obama”, but not for “Romney.”
Let me explain it. When someone searches for ‘Obama‘, Google gives preferences to the links about President Barack Obama, even in your subsequent searches for terms like ‘Medicare,’ ‘Iran,’ and ‘Gay marriage.’ The preferred results are displayed in gray type: “You recently searched for Obama.”
However, when you search for “Romney,” you won’t see customized links containing Mitt Romney’s name in the subsequent search results. WSJ says it didn’t find any indication that the results are intentionally biased. When you search for “Obama” or “Romney” you’ll see the standard results, but the future searches are treated differently.
A Google spokesperson said that the search engine wants to bring users the best answers to their queries as fast as possible. To make that possible, the company examines “related searches.” Google uses personalization features to give better results in a situation. For example, if someone searches for “The Godfather” and then for “Amazon”, Google will conclude that the user wants “The Godfather” results from Amazon.com. The spokesperson said that it saves users’ time and provide better search results, but affects only 0.3 percent of searches.
The customized results for Obama show how the algorithms, instead of human judgments, influence the information we find online. Google clarified that the disparity in Obama-Romney searches persists because more people searched for “Obama” followed by terms like “Medicare,” “Iran” or “Gay marriage”, than people who searched for “Romney” followed by these terms. This personalization feature was developed when Google made 500 or so tweaks last year.
Though the results do not show a political leaning towards any candidate, such minor features can make a big difference, especially in a politically charged environment when the presidential election is just one day away.