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 August 2021

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Four people sitting on a bench looking at laptops and iPads

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:

Add to Google Chrome
Add to Mozilla Firefox
Add to Microsoft Edge

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.

PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS

Our analysis of the hundreds of millions of search results donated by the more than 1,000 citizen scientists who have installed the browser plugin so far is still ongoing, and we will release detailed results from this research at a later stage.

At the ADM+S News & Media Symposium on 30 September 2021 we presented very preliminary observations about key patterns in the dataset. You can read about these observations here and watch the full presentation here.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Infographic for how the Australian Search Experience plugin works

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.

Please click here to see more detailed participant information for this research project.

JOIN OTHER PROJECTS

The Australian Ad Observatory project

The Australian Ad Observatory project is seeking members of the public to install a browser extension that aims to provide accountability and transparency around the social media giant’s use of targeted advertising.

Become a citizen scientist and join the
Australian Ad Observatory

CONTACT US

If you need help installing the plugin or have a question contact us datadonation@admscentre.org.au

AlgorithmWatch logo

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.

Visit AlgorithmWatch 

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