Google: Grade A Search Baloney

March 31, 2022

I have been involved in online information for more than 50 years. Yep, folks, That’s more than half a century. Those early days involved using big clunky computers to locate a word in a Latin corpus. Then there were the glory days of commercial online products like Business Dateline, the Health Reference Center, and others. The Internet was a source of online craziness that trumped the wackiness of Ev Brenner and his vision for petrochemical data. Against this richly colored tapestry of marketing fabrications, overpromising and under delivering, and the bizarre fantasies of the “old” Information Industry Association I read “Google Search Is Actually Getting Better at Giving You What You Need.”

The write up channels a marketing person at the Google and mixes the search wizard’s recycling of Google truisms with some pretty crazy assertions about finding information in 2022.

Let’s take a look at three points and then step back and put these online advertising charged assertions in a broader context; namely, of the outcomes of a a system which is a de facto information monopoly.

Here are the points I noted in the write up:

Big, baby, big.

The first idea is that Google processes a great deal of information. Plus, Google tests to tackle the challenge of “search quality.” By the way, what does “quality” mean? What happens when you combine big with quality, you get really good outputs from the Google system. Just try it. Do a search for pizza via Google on a mobile device. See what you get? Pizza information. Perfect. So big and quality means good. Do you buy that?

The second idea is that Google like little beavers or little Googzillas works to improve quality. The idea is that yesterday’s Google was not bad; it needs improvement. Many improvements mean that quality goes up. Okay, let’s try it. Say you want information about a loss of coolant accident. You know. Chernobyl, Fukashima, et al. Type in loca and you get Shakira’s video. Type in “nuclear loca” and you get links to a loss of coolant accident. Type in loca and you get results specific to a loss of coolant incident. Note what’s needed to get Google to produce something about loss of coolant accident. The user must specify a context; otherwise, Google delivers lowest common denominator results. One can use Google Dorks to work about the Shakira problem, but let’s face it, very few people are into Google Dorks. (I include them in my OSINT lecture at the National Cyber Crime Conference in April 2022, but I know from experience that not even trained investigators are into Google Dorks.)

The third idea is that Google is embracing artificial intelligence. That makes sense because there are not enough people to process today’s flows of information in the old fashioned subject matter expert way. One must reduce costs in order to deliver “quality.” Does that seem an unusual pairing of improvements and search results? Think about it, please.

Now let’s step back. Here are some observations I jotted on a 4×6 notecard:

  1. Google uses people looking for online information to generate revenue from ads. That which produces more ad revenue is valued. The “quality” is a repurposing of a useful concept to the need to generate revenue. Shakira is the correct result for the “loca” query. That’s quality.
  2. The notion of testing is interesting. What’s the objective? The answer is generating revenue. Thus, the notion of testing is little more than steering or tuning search results to generate more revenue. The adjustments operate on several levels: Shaping understanding via filtering and producing revenue from search results. Simple, just not exactly what a user of an ad supported system thinks about when running a query for pizza.
  3. Smart software is the number one way for Google to [a] reduce costs, [b] deflect legal challenges to its search result shaping with the statement “The algorithm does, not a human”; and [c] create the illusion that Google search results are really smart. Use Google and you will be smarter too.

Believe these assertions? You’re the ideal Google user. Have doubts? You are not Googley. Don’t apply for a job at the Google and for heaven’s sake, don’t expect the Google outputs to be objective, just accept that some information is unfindable by design.

Google Dorks exist for a reason? Google has made finding relevant information more difficult than at any time in my professional career. And every year, the Google system becomes more detached from what most people believe fuels Google’s responses to what Google users need.

Yep, need. Sell ads. Reduce costs. Generate feedback into the system from user’s who have biases. Why are government agencies pushing back on outfits like Google? The quest for qualilty? Nope. The pushback reflects a growing awareness of disinformation, manipulation, and behavior that stifles options in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, March 31, 2022


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