Private search vs. personalised search

You will be most familiar with personalised search, where search results are tailored to match what you have previously found interesting, and include pages that are similar to ones you may have looked at during a recent browsing session. Personalised search makes it more comfortable and easier to find what you expect to find.

But are the search results that you see biased to suit your interests? And do you feel the advisers providing your search results know you a bit too well?

Private search engines can’t use these tactics to optimise advertising and results, and they can’t sell user profile information to advertisers.

Personalised search

With your search terms and what you click on being tracked by the big search engines, it’s easy for them to build a profile about you. They know what you have liked in the past, and can easily rank search results so that you are more likely to click through. Of course, this makes searching feel easier and more comfortable, and encourages you to return to that search engine, since it always has the answer you expect.

What you may not realise, is that this creates a filter bubble. According to Wikipedia:

Filter bubbles result from personalized searches when a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user (such as location, past click-behavior and search history).

You don’t get to see different viewpoints, or information from other cultures and ideologies. You only see information and opinions from like-minded people. ‘Filter bubbles’ have been in the spotlight recently, with the rise of ‘fake news’ and concern about ‘echo chambers’ in social media, especially surrounding democratic elections and referendums in several countries.

The bias in search engine results is not so bad as in social media, but it is the same phenomenon.

Examples of personalised search you don’t control:

When using different browsers, Using Chrome being logged into a Google account vs. using private mode in Firefox or a standard Safari browser the search suggestions, and results can vary – and even the suggested prices and deals on hotels.

Personalised suggestions can be a result of your geographical location, browser, language etc. 

Examples of hotel price variations in search results:

Hotel prices personalised

This example shows how the results are personalised, and even the suggested prices vary. This leads to think that your online behaviour and previous searches influence the ranking and the results.  

Avoid bias with an independent search engine and keep your privacy

Because private search engines don’t track your search terms or the pages you click through to, they can’t rank results based on your search history. That’s why you don’t get personalised search results on private search engines.

This can mean that the results are a little less (specifically) relevant to you, and that you may have to hunt through more results or be more specific in your query, to find exactly what you are looking for. Example, “Prime minister” can be the prime minister from anywhere, because the private search engine doesn’t have a profile on you, and can’t relate your previous searches to a specific country.  So if you want to know who the Prime Minister of Australia is , searching for “Prime Minister of Australia” would be a better, more specific query.

But a private search engine does guarantee you get to see the full range of information and opinions when you search – you aren’t missing out on anything because of your location or other factors. A private search engine like findx, can look at your browser language,  and use this by default for your searches, but you can change the settings, and it respects that. What is important is that your personal settings aren’t collected, and everyone with the same settings will see the same results as you do.

Can private search be personalised?

We bet that you love personalised search – it’s convenient to have the results that are most relevant to you appear at the top of the list. We love it too! But we also want to keep our privacy.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could personalise the search result ranking algorithm to suit them, and change it whenever they want?

We think this would be fantastic, and we also believe this is possible to achieve.

Search ranking factors

That’s why we are working on ways to allow users to adjust the algorithm settings used by findx to rank search results. By default, findx returns completely unbiased results – what you see is what everyone sees. But with findx, you can tweak your personal ranking algorithm at any time – you get to see results that are more relevant to you, and always maintain your privacy.

With findx, you can have the best of both worlds – private search and personalised search.