When you use a search engine, do you see the same results as your colleagues, friends, or family do? If not, why is that? Are search results personalised especially for you? If so, what are the criteria? Which topics do search engines suggest to you and other users?
We want to find out. With your help.
Thank you to our citizen scientist community
Since Beta testing started in March 2021
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INSTALLING THE BROWSER PLUGIN
The plugin is available for Chrome and Firefox, for both desktop and laptop devices. Unfortunately, Safari browsers and mobile devices (including iPads and mobile phones) are not supported at this time. To install the plugin, select the extension store for your browser:
NEED EXTRA HELP?
If you need extra help – try our step by step interactive installation guide.
If you experience any difficulties during this process, please contact our project team via email at email@example.com.
WHY WE NEED THIS RESEARCH
There is a lot of speculation about the impact that search engines have on the information we encounter. In fact, we know very little about how they order and display information.
But search engines are so central to our daily lives that we need a way to independently assess the information they recommend.
We want to achieve this with a crowdsourcing project, and we invite you to participate in this project if you are currently residing in Australia and are aged 18 or older.
The more Australian Internet users support us, the better are the results we will get. So please help us by installing our browser plug-in, which automatically queries leading search engines for key topics from your computer up to six times per day. Your data donation will enable us to determine which factors have an influence on the weighting of the search results. The plugin will not access or transmit any personally identifiable information.
The Australian Search Experience project is funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society (ADM+S), and coordinated by researchers from Queensland University of Technology. It is based on a similar project that was led by our project partner, the non-profit organisation AlgorithmWatch, in Germany in 2017.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Browsers such as Firefox and Chrome can be expanded by installing plugins (also called extensions), which can add new functions to the browser.
Our browser plugin queries a number of leading search engines up to six times a day (every 4 hours). This only happens when your computer is switched on and the browser is running. At those times, the plugin starts new queries for a set of search terms that we have selected, and sends the list of search results back to our database. The search queries include a number of set keywords (e.g. the names of leading politicians or major celebrities), and some keywords that we will vary based on current events. The plugin won’t collect or transmit any personally identifiable information (e.g. your personal profile details, your own search history, etc.).
In short: we do not monitor what you yourself search for – we simply run our own searches from your browser, to see whether the results that you would see for those searches are different from the results that other users receive.
We take your Data Privacy very seriously.
- We do not access any of your personal data.
- We do not access your personal search history.
- None of the information you provide can be traced back to you personally.
This project has been reviewed and approved by the QUT Human Research Ethics Committee approval number 2021000293
During the plugin installation, we will also ask you to provide some basic demographic details (e.g. age range, gender, overall location). We use this information to investigate whether different demographic groups see different search results – but we will not be able to use them to identify you personally, and you can choose to provide only those details that you are comfortable with.
We will publish updates on the outcomes of this research project from time to time on this page – please check back if you are interested to see them.
The plugin will continue to run its search queries until you manually disable it in your browser, or until we deactivate it at the conclusion of the project, on 30 June 2022. In keeping with the ‘data donation’ philosophy, the full dataset will be shared at the end of the project via a public data repository. However, it will not be possible for anybody to identify you personally from this public dataset.
FIND OUT MORE
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is this study being conducted?
We want to better understand the decisions that search algorithms make and whether the information you receive is influenced by your search profile. We also want to determine how the information you receive changes over time.
What does participation involve?
Participation involves downloading our unique browser plugin by following the steps on the website. Once installation is complete, you don’t need to do anything else. The software will query Google and other search engines for a set number of search terms from time to time, and anonymously report the results back to a central database, so that we can analyse variations in search results between users, and over time. Search terms will reflect current news trends such as information regarding COVID-19.
What does the plugin do?
This plugin allows us to automatically send search queries to Google and other search engines up to six times a day. Searches are only conducted when your computer is turned on and the browser is open.
Will you see my search history?
No, we will not see your search history. The search results are anonymous but will allow us to determine which factors might influence the weighting of search results.
Does the plugin affect my search history?
You will see the search terms used by the plugin in your search history. These search terms may influence the suggestions that Google provides you in future searches. You can delete your search history or search suggestions at any time, by accessing your Google Account settings.
Will the plugin slow my computer down?
The software won’t interfere with the day-to-day operation, nor does it gather any personal information about you. It is restricted in what it collects and is designed to comply with ethics protocols for academic research.
How do I give consent to participate?
By installing and activating the plugin on your computer provide consent to participate in this research project.
What about privacy and confidentiality?
Your personal data and personal searches will not be accessed. Instead, our plugin uses random search terms in the background to see what results you would get if you were searching those terms yourself. Private information from you will not be accessed or stored.
How long does the project run?
The browser plugin will run until June 2022. You will not need to deactivate it manually however you can do so at any time if you no longer wish to participate in the project. Simply go to the Extensions / Add-ons menu in your browser and deactivate or uninstall the add-on.
Who gets access to the data?
Only ADM+S researchers will have access to the data. Please see the Participant Information for further details.
How much data do we collect?
Assuming a web page downloads approximately 860KB (as we’ve found in our own tests), and every search process visits 120 individual pages, the total amount of downloaded data on each search process is roughly 103.2MB. Assuming your computer is switched on the entire day, the maximum amount of data that can be downloaded with the plugin within a single day is 516MB.
What will happen to the results?
Results will be published during and after the end of the project. It will not be possible to extract any personally identifiable data from the results.
What if I have a concern or complaint regards the conduct of the research project?
ADM+S is committed to research integrity and the ethical conduct of research projects. If you wish to discuss the study with someone not directly involved, particularly in relation to matters concerning policies, information or complaints about the conduct of the study or your rights as a participant, you may contact the QUT Research Ethics Advisory Team on 07 3138 5123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will the plugin code by publicly available?
Yes, the plugin code is available here at GitHub.
What is search personalisation?
Search personalisation is when web search results are tailored specifically to an individual’s interests by incorporating information about the individual beyond the specific term provided. The search engine builds a profile of what it thinks it knows about you. There is not much information on how exactly Google personalises search results, however it is believed to be based on user language, location, and search history.
How do I uninstall the plugin?
This project is being conducted in collaboration with partner AlgorithmWatch.
AlgorithmWatch is a non-profit research and advocacy organization that is committed to watch, unpack and analyze automated decision-making (ADM) systems and their impact on society.