Personalised search not popular with users

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Invasion of privacy, say 73%

New research has shown that most people don't like search engines to tailor results based on their previous internet activity.

A study by research organisation Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 65 per cent of users felt that personalised search was a 'bad thing', while only 29 per cent said it was a 'good thing'. Meanwhile, 73 per cent of people interviewed said that they were 'not OK' with the process, viewing it as an invasion of privacy.

Personalised search is used by search engines such as Google and Bing to identify which results people are most likely to want to see, informed by data gathered about each user, such as what they have searched for in the past.

The survey, which collected the views of 2000 US people between 20 January and 19 February 2012, contextualised the 'bad thing' option by saying that personalised search 'may limit the information you get online and what search results you see'; while the 'good thing' choice indicated that 'it gives you results that are more relevant to you'. People were also able to vote for 'neither'.

Is personalised search limiting or helpful?

Demographically, older people, white people and those with higher incomes were more inclined towards a negative view of the function, with respective proportions of 70 per cent, 70 per cent and 75 per cent.

"It is possible that a lot of people are panicking about something perceived as new," said Daniel Nolan, managing director at theEword. "Personalised search has most recently been associated with signed-in Google users, but has actually been employed by the company for all users since late 2009; and by Bing since early 2011."

Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land pointed out that despite privacy and commercialisation fears, it is important to recognise the benefits.

"Some personalisation can indeed be helpful, especially in a web full of crud," he said.

"Just over a year ago, people were screaming that Google's search results were being overrun by garbage, which resulted in the Panda update. But filtering can only do so much."