It was a couple of years ago now when it dawned on me that Google was a company that had their own agenda and algorithms to back it up, and that my search results were limited to their calculations, and not necessarily just my keywords. At that point, I started doing a lot more cross referencing. But are the other engines any different? Does not every search engine have it own agenda?

I wanted to see the difference between not only the results of different search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing, but also with these search engines in different browsers such as Chrome, Internet Explore, Safari, and Firefox. Within this framework, I decided to search images for “teenage girls,” because I feel that they may be in a more vulnerable position, which ties into previous blogs – The Male Gaze, Privacy, Cybersexism, and Online Harassment.

The results were sporadic, to say the least, but in summary, Google’s Chrome rendered the most revealing images of teenage girls compared to competitor search engines and browsers. While most engines had an innate protective aspect about them, Google offered porn website links, images of minimally clothed teenage girls, cleavage shots, bikini close-ups, beauty measures, and the rest.

Alongside Safiya Noble, ‘I’m not picking on Google – but the results speak for themselves. Noble’s ‘Just Google it’, explains Google’s domination over the competitive landscape, with 47% market share in ’04, and 83% in ’12. She also notes that The Federal Trade Commission claims Google is not a monopoly, but that the EU is taking a much closer look at their monopolistic practices. This is important because, 64% of internet users in the US believe their internet searches are a fair, and an unbiased source of information, which is why Noble explains “we must be careful of what Google is serving up.”

With the majority of information provided being shifted from government to a select few private corporations, the concern for free expression has increased. Herbert Schiller writes, in his book Information Inequality, among other things about how expensive and difficult it is to get a private message across mass media; how the power of huge private enterprises is extended beyond borders, influencing and directing economic resources decision, political choices, and the production and dissemination of messages and images. The internet has changed this a bit, but most individuals don’t have millions to spend on messages.

“The American economy is now hostage to a relatively small number of giant private companies, with interlocking connections, that set the national agenda. This power is particularly characteristic of the communication and information sector where the national cultural-media agenda is provided by a very small (and declining) number of integrated private combines. The development has deeply eroded free individual expression, a vital element of a democratic society.”

Helen Nissenbaum, and Lucas Introna, from Information Society, Shaping the web: Why the politics of search engines matter – write “leading search engines give prominence to popular, wealthy, and powerful sites – via the technical mechanism of crawling, indexing, and ranking algorithms, as well as through human-mediated trading of prominence for a fee at the expense of others.” We have a disconnected voice, and there’s a gap between information gathered and information rendered. Too much is hidden from view, and more relevant information is pushed aside to make room for irrelevant advertisement campaigning; over time creating a blind, ignorant, and often arrogant society, eventually breaking down the fabric of social norms with reckless unaccountable online behavior.

So, be careful out there, and in the words of Baz Luhrmann – “Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia; dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts, and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

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