I’ve known for quite a while that Google search results are personally tailored, but it wasn’t until Google Instant came out that I discovered just how much.
It happened when I did a vanity search, to see how many characters it would take before my page sifted to the top. For me, it only took “roy te” for my web site to be the top hit. But that was for me. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that a hair salon filled the page of results for everyone else.
So that sent me on a quest to purge all knowledge Google might have of me, or what I liked in the past, in order to recreate the experience that everyone else would have. Little did I know how difficult and unsatisfying that would be.
First I deleted my history with Google. Earlier I had stopped Google from collecting it, but this time I deleted it, or at least did what Google depicts as deleting it. Then I logged out of my Google account. No dice, my page still sifted to the top.
Then I turned off personalized search results. Still no dice.
I started up a different browser and removed all my cookies. All of them. My page still floated to the top.
I tried a different computer at work, that I doubt I have ever in my life used. No change.
I’m left with the IP address, and it turns out that is indeed what Google retains. And despite their assurances that an IP address is only generally useful, I find it hard to believe that most people in the San Francisco Bay Area get my web page as the top hit for a search of “roy te”.
As Danny Sullivan wrote when Google announced personalized search results: “The days of “normal” search results that everyone sees are now totally, utterly over. Personalized results are the “new normal,” and the change is going to shift the search world and society in general in unpredictable ways.” Google is in our face — deeply, all the time, and in ways that we utterly cannot control. What, exactly, is Google’s definition of evil?