Chrome extension: Just Trust Me

 

In nearly every search diary that I received from the 10 participants that took part in my research project, Google was the place where the search for online information began. Google was quite literally, the source of all online knowledge. Calling upon Eli Pariser’s (2011) hypothesis of the danger personalisation algorithms pose to democracy and serendipity this concerned me. It concerned me even more because during the follow up interviews, not one of the ten students knew about Google’s personalisation algorithms and how it affected the outcomes of their search results. Only a few of them deleted temporary Internet files and cookies on their computer with the understanding that by deleting them it’ll make their computers run faster. Others had no idea what I was referring to.

Q: Have you ever deleted cookies off your computer and deleted your browsing history?

“I do it maybe once every month, just go through it and delete all the history I have and the cookies cause apparently it helps your computer function better.

I don’t know that’s what I’ve heard.”

- Excerpt from interview transcript with Georgie, 20yrs, South Africa

Q: Have you ever deleted cookies off your computer and deleted your browsing history?

“I actually haven’t, no.” 

- Excerpt from interview transcript with Tyla-Jade, 18yrs, South Africa

Q: Have you ever deleted cookies off your computer and deleted your browsing history?

“Ja, I always. Save space. I defrag it. I always delete my Internet temporary files atleast two or three times a week.” 

Q: And why did you do it?

“Mmmm when I did CAT at school they told me it saves space on your computer cause it’s just un-relevant space that’s taken up on your computer.” 

- Excerpt from interview transcript with Marcello, 20yrs, South Africa

Google Search is intricately linked in the minds of my participants to trusted online information. I don’t think this is something unique to these students. Up till very recently, I didn’t realise how powerful Google’s search algorithm really is and how our personalities are structured with every click of our mouse. Eli Pariser developed a website for his book The Filter Bubble (2011) where he has a included a section on what one can do to limit the amount of information search engines collect about you. I used this list as a resource to build the content that would appear in my Chrome extension.

The Just Trust Me extension sits in the top of the user’s Chrome browser. When clicked, five images and pieces of content that I designed, run like a slideshow of mini-reminders that Google, and other search engines, are not as objective and unbiased as they are believed to be. Google is still a company and as company’s go, the objective is to generate a profit. As a result, Google may seem to be free but that’s only because the user is what’s being sold.

When users are being linked to profit margins by search engines that are trusted as a source of knowledge, we should be very concerned about the quality of information and perhaps most importantly, the justification search engine companies have for serving users that knowledge in their search results feed in the first place.

The idea behind my extension is to create a disruption between search engines and users. Instead of searching for Pariser’s website each time they remember to clear their cookies, the extension will hopefully serve as a constant reminder. This extension is live in the Google App Store.

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