Measuring Personalization of Web Search

Anikó Hannák, Piotr Sapieżyński, Arash Molavi Khaki, David Lazer, Alan Mislove, Christo Wilson

Web search is an integral part of our daily lives. Recently, there has been a trend of personalization in Web search, where different users receive different results for the same search query. The increasing level of personalization is leading to concerns about Filter Bubble effects, where certain users are simply unable to access information that the search engines' algorithm decides is irrelevant. Despite these concerns, there has been little quantification of the extent of personalization in Web search today, or the user attributes that cause it. In light of this situation, we make three contributions. First, we develop a methodology for measuring personalization in Web search results. While conceptually simple, there are numerous details that our methodology must handle in order to accurately attribute differences in search results to personalization. Second, we apply our methodology to 200 users on Google Web Search and 100 users on Bing. We find that, on average, 11.7% of results show differences due to personalization on Google, while 15.8% of results are personalized on Bing, but that this varies widely by search query and by result ranking. Third, we investigate the user features used to personalize on Google Web Search and Bing. Surprisingly, we only find measurable personalization as a result of searching with a logged in account and the IP address of the searching user. Our results are a first step towards understanding the extent and effects of personalization on Web search engines today.

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