It’s much worse than you think. Think Google…
There was a time that psychologists and advertising companies worked at embedding the name of a detergent or other product in your mind so you would reflexively reach for their product on the store shelf. One of their favorite techniques was ads that mentioned the product name ten to twenty times in a broadcast commercial. It did have an impact and there was a time when people were concerned about the practice. How naive we were.
We now have to admit that the internet has taken over our lives and represents our preference to access information. Once it was newspapers, the evening news, magazines, encyclopedias and on and on, but now it’s the world wide web. Early on we thought that this was a good thing and I still marvel at what I can access on my laptop and phone. I admit it, I am addicted too but I’m becoming concerned.
The gateway to literally everything is the search engine. I can remember my son’s teacher showing me how to “Yahoo” and my reaction – it seemed a miracle. That was almost thirty years ago and that miracle has now metastasized. We’re so used to it that I don’t think we question it as much as we should, but occasionally I stumble upon something that gets my attention.
Google With Love And Hate
When it comes to the current gate keeper to information it’s Google. There are other search engine choices but Google use is about double all the others combined. As much as I am addicted to the internet I have also become addicted to Google. I prefer Android phones, my calendar is Google, I use Gmail, my TV has Chromecast and my homes wireless uses Google hardware. I transfer my photographs between devices with Google Photo and on and on but I have serious issues with their search engine.
A decade or so ago I became concerned about how Google was presenting me with search results. There were a couple of topics that I was interested in and I was well aware that there were conflicting arguments, but Google seemed to lean toward only one of the views. Often I had to go three, five or more pages into the search results to get information on the opposing argument. At the time it disturbed me to think that Google was demonstrating a bias in presenting me with results on topics involving economics, politics, science and more. An unbiased process in returning search results seemed to me a requirement for such an important “obligation”.
My hobbies are travel and photography and I combine them in producing a travel blog. I’ve been at the blog for a couple of years and will admit that I am a very small fish in a very large ocean. I’ve always believed that there were rules that provided everyone an opportunity on the web. I no longer believe that. I now believe that the process is rigged to an extreme level and much of it has nothing to do with a social causes – it’s money and it’s hidden from view.
The second largest general topic on the internet is travel (the first is porn) and there are huge amounts of money involved. If you think about it for a moment you will recognize that people book flights, hotels, cruises, tours, trains, rental cars and more world-wide, primarily on the internet. Billions of dollars are at play. In that internet travel space were a couple of sub-categories that focused primarily on supplying general travel information like Frommer’s guides, Rick Steves, National Geographic and web sites like Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor.
Founded in 2000, TripAdvisor was intended to be a compilation of information from other travel sources but as an afterthought they included a feature for visitors to add a review. The site exploded and nine years later was sold to the originator of Expedia. Four years later the company split in two, partly to attempt to keep the impartiality of TripAdvisor. Today TripAdvisor is the eight-hundred pound gorilla in the space. If you are a member you get email offers for cruises and resorts along with recent articles that about travel. Responding to those articles you will discover offers from cruise companies, airlines hotels…
Here’s the issue with Google searches in this space. First you will always find the top of the results pages showing results with that little indicator that they are ADS. Okay that’s where they make money, no big deal. Next you will often discover that a lot of travel results take you to TripAdvisor and at times you can’t be sure why? Once I had the first eight results be TripAdvisor with most being a single members review without much information. Seems like something fishy here. Is Google being biased toward TripAdvisor and is there money involved?
There is something different about Google searches – Recently my travel blog had three referrals with the search term being “destinations index”. I have a number of index posts hat link to content and one is Destinations Index. It wasn’t something I planned but if you use any search engine other than Google (Bing, Yahoo, Duck Duck Go, Dog Pile and more) using that search term you will find my page at the tp of the list or at least in the top four. Us that search term on Google and it isn’t there. I gave up after fourteen pages.
If you are thinking about travel, Google is selling your thoughts to specific travel websites. Their playing field isn’t fair. There is a lot of discussion about their bias feeding you with results slanted to one side of an issue – global warming, Democratic candidates, rights to live or die, social causes… They are influencing our thoughts by what information they allow us to see but it seems they are also selling our thoughts about what we are interested in to specific companies.
The Google information gatekeeper charges a toll and we never knew the commodity was actually our thoughts. What gave them the right? There is a possible solution – start using a different search engine (Bing even pays you money to use theirs) and you might also question using Chrome as your browser?