According to a recent study conducted by Pew Research Center, there seems to be quite a discrepancy between what search engine users say they want and what they actually respect with regards to personalized search. In a nutshell, the majority of respondents had very good things to say about Google and the results they provide. However, a solid majority of respondents also stated that they view personalized search results as a bad thing.
The results of the survey, which was conducted as a part of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, were based on telephone interviews conducted among 2,253 adults from January 20 to February 19, 2012. According to the study, which was released on March 9, Google was the search engine of choice for 83 percent of respondents (up from 47 percent in 2004). As far as the quality of search results go, 73 percent said that the information they get from search is “accurate and trustworthy,” and 55 percent feel that the quality has been improving steadily. Interestingly, on 4 percent felt things were getting worse.
However, further results of the study reveal an interesting dichotomy. Sixty-five percent of respondents felt that personalized search results were a bad thing because “it may limit the information you get online and what search results you see.” In addition, 73 percent felt that search engines collecting user information to personalize search results was a violation of their privacy.
So folks seem to be pleased with Google’s performance as a search engine, even though they have an aversion to personalization and data mining. Some might construe this as a disconnect or a failure to understand just how search engines get those “accurate and trustworthy” results. However, in her article on Search Engine Watch, Miranda Miller likens it to a NIMBY (“not in my back yard”) issue, where users want the benefits of personalized search without having their own privacy compromised.
“Users are telling the search engines with our ad clicks, page views, queries, and online purchase, that we demand the right information for us, right now,” writes Miller. “[H]ow much stock can we put into user sentiment that personalization is bad when our actions say it is just oh so good?”