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Trapped Inside the Google Filter Bubble? Bing, Pls Help Me Get Out!

Trapped Inside the Google Filter Bubble?  Bing, Pls Help Me Get Out!


Where is Siva Vaidhyanathan when I need him?   Just when I thought I knew everything, thanks to Siva's brilliant book and his incisive Twitter stream, about how everything in my life has been Googlized, I found myself trapped for two full days in what seems to be a Google Filter Bubble . . . that, or it's like some search equivalent of gaslighting, a form of psychological abuse where the evil conspirator tries to convince the victim she's crazy by feeding her false information that makes her distrust her own memory (if you've never seen the creepy 1944 Cukor noir thriller with Bergman and Boyer, rent it now).  I digress.   But, then again, that's what endless search does to you . . . especially when, instead of yielding the results you are after, it keeps throwing up ads for a brand of shoe one (i.e. moi) researched and rejected months ago.  


I have no proof and I've asked a number of my tech genius pals on Facebook for help here and, yes, of course I've contacted Siva who knows all and will tell.  But, for now, early on in sleuthing this mystery and fighting for my sanity, I simply want to say I spent 48 hours making myself, a former research assistant, a present research assistant, an editor, and a professional fact checker all crazy looking for a fact that was so odd (when I thought about it) that it had to have been someone else's, with me quoting.  I knew it was there, but Google turned up the same wrong results over and over and over, no matter how hard I dug.  


Then, coincidentally, I had also promised to send my doctor some results I'd uncovered on Google on July 6.  It was about the implication of noise-cancelling headphones used on a long distance flight (i.e. my trip back from England, that's why I know the date) in triggering insanely acute migraine, even relative to other acute migraine.   It felt like a very productive grounds for a research study since I'd remembered from other research that noise canceling technology actually changes barometric pressure within the inner ear.  Sure enough, the research is nascent but enough to get a postdoc started on what could be a productive new research study, cause to effect and effect to cause, that could yield some correlations.   Google turned up nothing.  


Gaslighting?  Or just changed filters over at Google?  I am not sure but I know this for certain.  I searched for each of the above on Bing and, on the first try in each case, found the information I needed.   This is not a scientific study.  I have nothing more than these two anecdotes to report.  But let's just say that, in both cases, my search had been exhaustive enough that, next time I'm frustrated on a Google search, I will immediately try Bing.  Unless, of course, I'm trying to remember that brand of shoes I researched and rejected last month.



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Cathy N. Davidson is co-founder of HASTAC, and author of The Future of Thinking:  Learning Institutions for a Digital Age (with HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg), and the forthcoming Now You See It:  How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (publication date, Viking Press, August 18, 2011).  below. For an early, prepublication review of Now You See It in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, click here.

A starred review in the May 30 Publisher's Weekly notes:  "Davidson has produced an exceptional and critically important book, one that is all-but-impossible to put down and likely to shape discussions for years to come." PW named it one of the "top 10 science books" of the Fall 2011 season. In the August 9 New York Times, columnist Virginia Heffernan calls the book "galvanic. . .  One of the nation’s great digital minds, [Davidson] has written an immensely enjoyable omni-manifesto that’s officially about the brain science of attention. But the book also challenges nearly every assumption about American education. . . . As scholarly as “Now You See It” is — as rooted in field experience, as well as rigorous history, philosophy and science — this book about education happens to double as an optimistic, even thrilling, summer read. It supplies reasons for hope about the future. Take it to the beach. That much hope, plus that much scholarship, amounts to a distinctly unguilty pleasure."

For more information, visit or order on by clicking on the book below.

  [NYSI cover]



My friend Katie King on Facebook provided this very helpful link that can show you how to turn off the personalized search on Google.  That helps---but it also means you lose your previous search history.  Talk about having to choose between the lesser of two evils.   I might work to use Google and then supplement with Bing to avoid such a choice:


Turning off search history personalization

Google sometimes customizes your search results based on your past search activity on Google. This customization includes searches you've done and results you've clicked. Since personalized search treats signed-in and signed-out users differently, the instructions for turning off search history personalization are a little different in each case.

Signed in searches

To disable history-based search customizations while signed in, you'll need to remove Web History from your Google Account. You can also choose to remove individual items. Note that removing this service deletes all your old searches from Web History.

If you aren't signed in to a Google Account, your search experience will be customized based on past search information linked to a cookie on your browser. To disable these types of customizations, follow these steps:

  1. In the top right corner of the search results page, click the gear icon gear icon, then select Web History.
  2. On the resulting page, click Disable customizations based on search activity.(Because this preference is stored in a cookie, it'll affect anyone else who uses the same browser and computer as you).

Or, if you'd rather just delete the current cookie storing searches from your browser and start fresh, clear your browser's cookies.

Note: If you've disabled search customizations, you'll need to disable it again after clearing your browser cookies; clearing your Google cookie turns on history-based customizations.


My friend Siva, author of The Googlization of Everything, offers this advice:  [Google] announced a major change in March. And they do tweaks all the time. Try using a fresh browser, clear cookies, don't log in to Gmail or anything else Google-owned."


Indeed, clearing cookies is what I absolutely HAVE to do in order to make certain web sites work properly, if I am using Google Chrome. They need to fix that, what? Anyhow, because I otherwise like Google Chrome (fast, personal start page options including getting my feed from HASTAC and other sites I'm following, quick move to my mail and calendar, etc.) I use it and clear cookies constantly. Hadn't connected the failure of the NetBot to keep up with me with "me appropriate" ads, but now I see that's what happened. Good habit to get into, no matter what browser you're using.