Hard-Coding Bias in Google “Algorithmic” Search Results

I present categories of searches for which available evidence indicates Google has “hard-coded” its own links to appear at the top of algorithmic search results, and I offer a methodology for detecting certain kinds of tampering by comparing Google results for similar searches. I compare Google’s hard-coded results with Google’s public statements and promises, including a dozen denials but at least one admission. I conclude by analyzing the impact of Google’s tampering on users and competition, and by proposing principles to block Google’s bias.

Details, including screenshots, methodology, proposed regulatory response, and analogues in other industries:

Hard-Coding Bias in Google “Algorithmic” Search Results

What Advertisers Use WhenU?

Advertisers Using WhenU

Ever wonder who advertises on WhenU? A few reporters have tried to figure this out but have been stymied: Few companies care to talk about their use of Claria or WhenU. (WSJ [paid registration required], BusinessWeek).

So I thought I’d put together a list of all of WhenU’s current advertisers — all the companies showing graphical ads (not just sponsored link text) on WhenU’s system. There are 234 distinct advertisers, by my count. The biggest advertisers (by advertisement count) are Priceline (51 ads), J.P. Morgan Chase (43), Casino On Net (37), Verizon (28), Orexis (24). Major advertisement categories:

Gambling, Betting and Bingo 327 advertisements 49 advertisers
Loans 263 advertisements 35 advertisers
Travel 213 advertisements 21 advertisers

Further down the list, 102 ads for insurance, 99 for sexual health (mostly Viagra and similar products) and even some ads for online psychics and online cigarette sales.

All the details, and thousands of advertisement thumbnails, are in:

Advertisers Using WhenU

Sites Blocked by ADL HateFilter with Jonathan Zittrain

Like numerous other Internet filtering programs, the Anti-Defamation League’s HateFilter attempts to prevent users from knowing which specific web sites are deemed off-limits. However, this research presents a method for efficiently determining which specific sites are blocked, and this site reports results. Numerous sites are blocked that no longer offer content meeting ADL’s definitions (if they ever did), including sites now offering other substantive content, sites that offer only error messages, and sites that no longer exist.

Continued: Sites Blocked by ADL HateFilter

Documentation of Gator Advertisements and Targeting

The Gator Corporation designs software to display advertisements on users’ computer screens, triggered in part by the specific web sites users visit. The author has developed an automated method of determining which specific advertisements Gator has associated with which web sites, data that may be helpful to web site operators, policy-makers, and others in assessing Gator’s practices. This article offers listings of more than eight thousand specific sites targeted by Gator as well as analysis of the advertisements shown. An interface is also available to let interested Internet users to test Gator’s advertisements on their own.

Documentation of Gator Advertisements and Targeting

Benjamin Edelman v. N2H2, Inc.

I sought to research and document sites categorized and restricted by Internet blocking program N2H2. N2H2’s block site list is protected by technical measures including an encryption system, but I sought to write software that would nonetheless allow me to access, analyze, and report its contents. However, I feared that conducting this work might expose me to liability for violation of the N2H2 License, of the Copyright Act of 1976, and of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, as well as for misappropriation of N2H2’s trade secrets. With representation by the ACLU, I therefore sought from federal court a declaratory judgement that I could conduct this research and publication without fear of liability.

Case details including litigation documents