Hacking

Even in Incognito Mode Google is influencing what you click – DuckDuckGo

According to an research of Google’s anti-tracking rival duckduckgo it has found that Google is influencing what you click even in logout and also incognito mode. Duckduckgo recently published an rechearch artical under its spreadprivacy blog.

DDG suggested to run away from the so-called ‘filter bubble’ of personalized online searches, The filter bubble is an manipulation of your search results based on your personal data. This actually means links are moved up or down or added to your Google search results, nesseciate the filtering of other search results altogether. These reflect results are influenced by the personal information Google has of you, includes your search, browsing, and purchase history, and it puts you in a bubble based on what Google’s algorithms think you’re most likely to click on.

According to Google the steps have been taken to reduce the problem of its filter bubble. But according to DDG – Based on a study of different individuals searching for identical terms at the same time, they found. 

  • Most participants saw results unique to them. These discrepancies could not be explained by changes in location, time, by being logged in to Google, or by Google testing algorithm changes to a small subset of users.
  • On the first page of search results, Google included links for some participants that it did not include for others, even when logged out and in private browsing mode.
  • Results within the news and videos infoboxes also varied significantly. Even though people searched at the same time, people were shown different sources, even after accounting for location.
  • Private browsing mode and being logged out of Google offered very little filter bubble protection. These tactics simply do not provide the anonymity most people expect. In fact, it’s simply not possible to use Google search and avoid its filter bubble.
filter bubble overview 3 - Even in Incognito Mode Google is influencing what you click - DuckDuckGo

DDG Methodology of Study 

DDG asked the volunteers in the U.S. to Google the term for “vaccinations”, “gun control” and “immigration”, at 9pm ET on Sunday, June 24, 2018. Where volunteers performed searches first in private browsing mode and logged out of Google, and then again in normal mode.

EXPREMENT #1: Most people saw results unique to them, even when logged out and in private browsing mode.

The diversity founded for each search results is listed below. For this part of the study, they have not involved mobile results due to the number of infoboxes displayed can vary significantly between mobile and desktop.

Private browsing mode (and logged out):

  • “vaccinations”: 73 variations with 70/76 participants (92%) seeing unique results.
  • “gun control”: 62 variations with 52/76 participants (68%) seeing unique results.
  • “immigration”: 57 variations with 43/76 participants (57%) seeing unique results.

Normal mode:

  • “vaccinations”: 73 variations with 70/76 participants (92%) seeing unique results.
  • “gun control”: 58 variations with 45/76 participants (59%) seeing unique results.
  • “immigration”: 59 variations with 48/76 participants (63%) seeing unique results.
serp variants 2 - Even in Incognito Mode Google is influencing what you click - DuckDuckGo

Resulting most of the vollentier got unique result. That is also found about the same variation in private browsing mode and logged out of Google vs. in normal mode.

EXPERIMENT #2: Google included links for some participants that it did not include for others.

The search results normally have 10 organic links. Where the positioning of those links are really important (i.e. link #1 gets ~40% of clicks, link #2 ~20%, link #3 ~10% and so on), also wanted to know how many different domains were being displayed.

  • “vaccinations”: 22 different domains
  • “gun control”: 19 different domains
  • “immigration”: 15 different domains
domain occurrences 2 - Even in Incognito Mode Google is influencing what you click - DuckDuckGo

As we can observe the difference above, some people were shown a very unusual set of results relative to the other participants, offered some domains seen by no-one else.

EXPERIMENT #3: Significant variation within Video and News infoboxes.

Videos infobox:

  • “vaccinations”: Not shown in the search results.
  • “gun control”: 12 variations from 7 sources, appearing for 75/76 people. The most common variation was seen by 24 people (32%).
  • “immigration”: 6 variations from 6 sources, appearing for 75/76 people. The most common variation was seen by 42 people (55%).

News Infobox

  • “vaccinations”: 2 variations from 3 sources, appearing for 2/76 people. Each variation was seen by one person (1%).
  • “gun control”: 3 variations from 5 sources, appearing for 75/76 people. The most common variation was seen by 69 people (90%).
  • “immigration”: 6 variations from 7 sources, appearing for 76/76 people. The most common variation was seen by 35 people (46%).

EXPREMENT #4: Google offered almost zero filter bubble protection in Private browsing mode and even being logged out. 

If search results were more anonymous in these states, then they expect everyone’s private browsing mode results to be similar. That’s not what they saw.

To test this more rigorously, they took the organic results, excluding ads and infoboxes, and:


Assigned each domain a letter (e.g. A for nytimes.com, B for wsj.com, etc.).

Made a string of letters for each person’s results, e.g. ABDFJKMSL.

Compared these strings to see how similar they were to each other.
edit distances1 2 - Even in Incognito Mode Google is influencing what you click - DuckDuckGo

And when randomly comparing people’s private modes to each other, there was more than double the variation than when comparing someone’s private mode to their normal mode:

vaccinations:

  • Average of normal and private browsing mode (same user): 2.23
  • Average of private browsing mode (random user): 4.97
  • Average of private browsing mode (five closest users): 4.25

gun control:

  • Average of normal and private browsing mode (same user): 1.03
  • Average of private browsing mode (random user): 2.89
  • Average of private browsing mode (five closest users): 2.65

immigration:

  • Average of normal and private browsing mode (same user): 1.38
  • Average of private browsing mode (random user): 3.28
  • Average of private browsing mode (five closest users): 2.80
edit distances2 1 - Even in Incognito Mode Google is influencing what you click - DuckDuckGo

According to DDG this finding determined that Google fashioned search results regardless of browsing mode. People should not be lulled into a false sense of security that so-called “incognito” mode makes them anonymous.

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