People Like Google, But Not What Google Does
Google has been on a mission to personalize its search results. The mighty "big G" thinks that its users want increased personalization, as well as more local results, in its results pages. However, a new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project indicates that users don't like all of the attention Google is giving its users. Pew interviewed 2,000 adults in the U.S. and questioned them between January 20th and February 19th of this year. Pew was hoping to better understand the usage patterns and preferences for Internet users when it comes to search engines.
Search Still Popular
According to Pew, search is still one of the most favorite online activities with 91 percent of users doing daily Internet searches. Google's market share is over 66 percent, according to the most recent comScore data. However, 83 percent of the people in the Pew study reported that they use Google to perform Internet searches. That's the good news.
Personalize Search Is Hated
Google and Bing both report that personalized search provides you with better search results. Because search engines gather data about your past searches, and your activity all over the Internet, they can tailor search results to your personal search preferences, your locale, and even based on things like what your friends search for (with the thought being that you are interested in whatever your friends are interested in). But two-thirds of users say they just don't care.
When Pew asked users about personalized search and data mining, most users responded negatively. A full two-thirds of individuals said search personalization was a "bad thing." Nearly three-fourths of users reported that using data mining to construct personalized search was "not OK."
The group that was surveyed wasn't just comprised of one particular demographic either. There was a decent sample size of whites, blacks, hispanics as well as people ranging in age from 18 to 50+. The Pew study also sampled various income brackets with people making under $30,000 per year to people making over $75,000 per year. The results were the same.
What's interesting is that 65 percent of respondents said that it's a bad thing because they think it may limit the information they get while searching online. This flies in the face of what Google, Bing, and others insist will not happen. To a user, personalized search certainly seems less objective if it takes into account your own personal search preferences. Users may be looking for results regardless of what their friends searched for previously, or what the user's personal interests are. They want search results not based on personal bias which might be the popular view of what personalized search is.
A full 73 percent thought that personalized search that was constructed via data mining was an invasion of privacy. That makes sense. If people perceive that you're collecting information from them, only to use it "against" them, they will revolt. What Google needs to do is be upfront about it, and assuage fears that the data will be used improperly. It's not doing that.
Google is in an envious position. While users hate data mining, they don't seem to associate it with Google, as such. Now, Pew didn't ask specifically about Google or Bing or any particular search engine. It simply asked about data mining in general. Pew didn't want to taint the study by injecting brand bias.
Will Google Listen?
Google has a tendency to do its own thing. It's what earned them the number one spot in the search engine industry, and it's not likely to take the Pew study seriously. Google is heavily invested in personalized search, Google+ (which feeds some of its personalized search results), and is clearly looking to make its search engine more personal and relevant at the local level.