Many people don’t realize that when they use Google Chrome, their entire online experience becomes tailored based on their past activity online.
What this means is that when you search for things using Google Search, Google will bring websites and pages to the top of that search that you’re more likely to be interested in.
Unfortunately, for people who often search Google for topics related to sexism and discrimination, this can create a false confirmation bias that can convince people their view of the world is correct – when that may not be the case.
How Does Google Personalization Work?
The concept of “personalization” was first introduced by Google in 2005. By 2009, Google started customizing a person’s search results based on the last 180 days of search activity. Google does this via an anonymous cookie stored in your browser’s cache files that stores that history, allowing the Google Search page to access that information. If you’re logged into your Google account, this information is actually stored in your Google account itself.
You can see this history by visiting the Google My Activity page and selecting Web & App Activity in the pane on the right.
Scroll down and select Manage all Web & App Activity.
Finally, scroll down to see your recent web activity. this includes Google searches as well as sites and pages that you’ve recently visited.
Google claims that it alters your Google search results in order to provide the most “relevant” content based on your past interests – revealed by your searches and website visits.
While this might provide results that you care more about, if you frequently search for information like “is there a gender wage gap?”, “why is America a patriarchy”, or “why is masculinity toxic?” – and then only visit the websites that confirm what you already believe about these issues – Google will continue serving up website results to your future searches that continue to confirm your pre-existing beliefs.
How Google Personalization Biases Your Search Results
Typically, there are sites on the internet that thoroughly cover both sides of important issues around gender. Many of these are based in solid research and written by credentialed academics.
However, if you’ve only clicked on sites that confirm your pre-existing belief that the gender pay gap is real, and avoid pages that provide evidence debunking that myth – like Christina Hoff Sommers’ article in Time Magazine debunking a number of such myths, you’re not likely to see Sommers’ well researched article at all.
You’re far more likely to see top results from entertainment content-mill type sites like Buzzfeed or Jezebel that regurgitate these debunked claims without providing any solid evidence to support them.
These are sites that instead like to seek out and highlight anecdotal claims that don’t actually prove anything. Instead, these sites only serve to bolster your pre-existing false belief and help you confirm that those myths are actually true.
It may surprise readers that they would see an article from Buzzfeed show up higher than Time Magazine on such important issues, but this is exactly how Google personalization contaminates your search results with things that it feels align with your already-existing beliefs.
How to Disable Google Personalization
The process to disable this Google feature isn’t easy, but it will make your search results more effective at providing you with better information from more reputable sources.
Return to the Web & App Activity section of the My Activity page and select the Turn off button to disable tracking of your online activity.
You may also want to select See and delete activity so you can delete all of the existing web activity – this will ensure your search results are not biased based on your past searches and website visits.
Finally, clear all cookies from your browser by selecting the three dots at the upper right and selecting Settings. Select Privacy and security from the left menu, then select Clear browsing data in the center pane.
In the pop-up window that appears, select Browsing history and Cookies and other site data. Then select the Clear data button.
This will clean up the rest of the past web history stored by your browser. Now you can conduct a Google search and trust that your results will not be biased by past websites that you’ve decided to read.
Why Should I Care About Unbiased Search Results?
For topics that are as important as gender equality and equal rights, it’s always important to educate yourself using sources that are based on solid evidence and good research. Too many websites today that cover these topics are written by amateur bloggers who have little to no academic credentials, or the the only degree they’ve obtained is Gender Studies, which we know is itself a field of study disseminates misinformation and false claims around gender.
You even have to be careful to avoid buying into so-called “research studies” conducted by activist researchers, who commonly toss out evidence that doesn’t support their pre-existing theories.
The easiest way to get started accessing the best search results around gender issues is to make sure that Google personalization isn’t biasing your search results with all of the poor writing and bad research you’ve been reading up to this point.
And you never know, once you become better educated and informed on these topics, you may very well decide to switch your label to egalitarian!