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  1. After being announced earlier this month, Google has finally begun rolling out its darker dark mode to save battery and your eyes. While Google has had an official dark mode for Search since last year, in order to stop you from blinding yourself when opening a new tab at the dead of night, for many users the soothing dark grey wasn’t nearly a dark enough option. Thankfully for dark mode purists that’s soon about to change, as Google is steadily rolling out a new darker dark mode that replaces the grey with a pure #000000 black, 9to5Google reports. Unfortunately for those wanting to get their hands on the pitch-black dark mode, the rollout for this darker dark mode is a somewhat baffling process. As usual, the rollout sees users being given this feature randomly, however, some users are claiming to have lost the option for the darker theme after previously having access to it, so there’s no guarantee it will stick around. While it might not be to everyone’s tastes, including our own, this pitch-black dark mode will definitely benefit those with OLED and AMOLED displays who adore contrast and saving on battery life. If you want to enable this new darker dark mode for yourself, so long as you’re one of the lucky ones with the option to do so, here are some very simple steps on how to do it. Select the gear icon in the top right corner of your display to open quick settings Select “Dark Theme” under Appearance Google’s darker dark mode is very steadily rolling out
  2. Google Search's stark, white homepage could be in for some big changes. Whoa, there are cards at the bottom of the Google homepage! 9to5Google Check out this totally wild Google homepage experiment spotted by 9to5Google: the search page suddenly has a row of cards at the bottom. If this design is widely adopted, it would easily be the biggest google.com design change ever. In the experiment, Google.com has a row of six cards at the bottom of the page. There's weather, trending searches, "what to watch," a stock card, local events, and COVID news. Clicking on a card will either expand it or load a search-results page. There's also a "hide content" switch, which will turn the cards off. All of this seems very similar to the Google.com app, which has a scrollable list of "discover" cards. One of the reasons Google Search initially became popular was because the search page was plain and easy to use. The competition at the time included search engines like Yahoo and Alta Vista, which presented users with a massive wall of ads and content. Google's starkness was a major differentiator in the early days, and it's interesting to see the company toy with moving a little closer to the days of Yahoo, even if it's presenting a more modern take on the idea. You have to wonder how many people actually still use the Google.com search page. If you have Google's browser, Chrome, you basically never see it. The Chrome "new tab" page looks similar to Google.com, but it's not the same, and the prevalence of address bars that double as search bars makes a search homepage rather obsolete. So far, there are no indications that Google plans to release the design change as a permanent feature, but the company has seemed willing to make big changes to search lately. Dark mode (shown in the screenshot) rolled out just five months ago. Listing image by NurPhoto/Getty Images Google.com tests a busier homepage with a row of info cards
  3. Here's how to cut through the sponsored listings and ads—and get back to the good stuff. While Google isn't in any danger of being dethroned as the go-to search portal of choice for most people, results on the site are definitely more hit and miss than they used to be. A typical Google results page these days is packed with advertisements, recommended results, and websites that are the best at search engine optimization rather than the most reliable, accurate answers to your questions. To get good results out of Google, you need to go beyond simply typing out a few keywords and hoping for the best. Using the tips we've outlined below, you should be able to find what you're after faster and more easily. Run More Specific Searches Quotation marks help you be more specific with your searches. Google via David Nield One of the most effective ways to narrow your search is to put your search terms inside quotation marks: From song lyrics to movie titles, this can cut a lot of the clutter from results pages, because Google knows exactly what you're looking for. It's particularly effective when the keywords in your search aren't often used together. By putting a minus ("–") sign immediately before a keyword, you can exclude results that include that word. This works really well when you want to avoid a particular association that your other keywords have, or you want to filter out a news story that's dominating the headlines (and the search results.) On the flip side, add a plus ("+") sign in front of words you definitely do want to include and match (by default, Google can treat some of your keywords as optional.) In general, the more keywords you use in your search, the better. You may think that Google knows what you're looking for just from one or two terms, but you'd be surprised at how much better the results are if you are more specific. This can really help when you're getting a lot of hits that aren't closely related to what you hope to find. Focus on Individual Sites You can pull up results from specific sites like Wikipedia. Google via David Nield A lot of the time you'll want Google to scour the entire web for search results, but not always. If there's a particular site you want to look at or that you trust above all others, type site: followed by its main URL after the keywords you're looking for. Google will return only results from that specific domain. This can be handy when looking up results on Wikipedia, for example. Running a regular search might well bring up a lot of sponsored, optimized, and biased sites ahead of the online encyclopedia, but if you add "site:wikipedia.org" you'll get results only from Wikipedia—and you can still take advantage of Google's excellent capabilities when it comes to search and page ranking. The same trick works for just about any site that you consider to be an authority. You might want to focus on a certain news site that you trust, for example, or maybe you want to see results from an official website related to your search rather than matches from elsewhere on the web. Use the Advanced Search Tools Google offers an entire page of advanced search tools. Google via David Nield In your haste to search the web, you might not have noticed the small cog icon at the top right of the Google search results page. Click this and then choose Advanced search, and you get access to a whole host of additional parameters that will make your searches more precise and effective. You can use the Advanced Search page to include or exclude certain words, as we've already mentioned. You're also able to restrict your results to a particular language or a particular region—again, helpful when you're getting a lot of redundant results. Another useful option here is the file type drop-down list, which lets you look for PDFs, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, GIFs in image search, and other file types rather than webpages. The Advanced Search page also has options for showing pages that have been updated recently, for looking for keywords in a particular part of a website, and for returning content that's got a Creative Commons license attached to it. Once you start using these advanced features, you might wonder how you ever did without them. Add More Search Operators Choose your operators carefully for better search results. Google via David Nield You can deploy a number of search operators to dig deeper into Google results and to return page matches that you otherwise wouldn't get. Put "OR" between your keywords to search for several different terms at once that don't have to all be matched. Alternatively, use the asterisk ("*") as a wildcard that Google will use to return all the most popular hits for—"how to learn * on YouTube" for example. Use the "before:" and "after:" operators to limit results by a specific date (the Tools button on the results page gives you the same options), which is very handy for cutting out very recent or very old results. If you want to search social media, use the hashtag (#) symbol to look for hashtags, and if you're interested in the price of something, put a dollar sign ($) followed by the number that reflects the budget you're working to. You can actually look for matches that cover a range of numbers: Try "camera $50…$100" for example, replacing the keyword and price bracket with whatever you want. Finally, you can look for results on a site related to another site by putting "related:" followed by the URL at the end of your search query. How to Get Google Search Results That Are Actually Useful (May require free registration to view)
  4. Google search on mobile is getting a redesign The changes are intended to simplify how search results look Illustration: Alex Castro / The Verge Google is redesigning how search results look on mobile, the company announced in a blog on Friday. “We wanted to take a step back to simplify a bit so people could find what they’re looking for faster and more easily,” Aileen Cheng, who led the redesign, said in the blog. The redesign will have larger and bolder text that’s intended to be easier to scan quickly, and you’ll see more of Google’s font in results. Search results will also take up more of the width of your screen, thanks in part to reduced shadows. Google also says the redesign will use color “more intentionally” to help highlight important information without being distracting. To get an idea of how the redesign differs from the current experience, compare this render of the redesign with a screenshot of the current search experience I took from my iPhone 12 mini. Image: Google Screenshot by Jay Peters / The Verge It looks like the new design puts more information higher up the page and reduces some visual clutter, which will hopefully make results easier to parse without forcing you to scroll down too far to find what you’re looking for. Google says the redesign will roll out in the coming days. Google search on mobile is getting a redesign
  5. Google acknowledges the controversial redesign of its search results on desktop A couple of weeks back, Google redesigned the search results for its desktop website. According to the firm, the new layout was meant to mimic the ordering of search results on the mobile version of the website. Most significantly, the changes allowed the inclusion of favicons next to display results and the removal of color overlays. This meant that advertisements and traditional search results were displayed inline with little to distinguish between the two. As expected, the change led to a degree of dissonance. Some users were left vexed after seeing the favicons and additional header information displayed on top of the search result while others started suggesting alternative search engines like DuckDuckGo. Now, Google has apparently heard the community's concern apropos the redesign and tweeted a statement in response. Particularly, the firm addressed the placement of the controversial favicons stating that in the coming weeks, as part of the iterative design process, "some [users] might not see favicons while some might see them in different placements as we look to bring a modern look to desktop." All in all, how exactly the firm goes about modernizing the aesthetics of its search results while minimizing dissonance stemming from the world's most popular search engine, will certainly be an interesting watch. Source: Google acknowledges the controversial redesign of its search results on desktop (Neowin)
  6. It’s not just you: Google added annoying icons to search on desktop The company says the goal is to make clearer where links will lead Google added tiny favicon icons to its search results this week for some reason, creating more clutter in what used to be a clean interface, and seemingly without actually improving the results or the user experience. The company says it’s part of a plan to make clearer where information is coming from, but how? To give you an idea of how minimal the change is, here’s what it looked like when Google made the same tweak last year to the browsing experience on phones: In my Chrome desktop browser, it feels like an aggravating, unnecessary change that doesn’t actually help the user determine how good, bad, or reputable an actual search result might be. Yes, ads are still clearly marked with the word “ad,” which is a good thing. But do I need to see Best Buy’s logo or AT&T’s blue circle when I search for “Samsung Fold” to know they’re trying to sell me something? Search results for “Galaxy Fold” are not clearer for having the favicons The company tweeted that the change to desktop results were rolling out this week, “helping searchers better understand where information is coming from, more easily scan results & decide what to explore.” But though the logos have been visible in search results on Google’s mobile browser since last year, Google’s statement doesn’t address how successful or irrelevant the favicons might have been for mobile users. When Google first launched, its sparse, almost blank search page and minimalist results were an extremely welcome change, compared to the detritus on other search home pages at the time (which persists on sites like Yahoo). Adding favicons makes Google’s search results look a little cartoonish, and if we think Facebook users who can’t determine a reputable news source from their racist uncle’s favorite blog are going to be assisted by tiny pictures on Google, well, we’re likely to be disappointed. Google does often make changes to search that actually do improve user experience or results, though. In the past few months, Google changed its search algorithm so it doesn’t see a search query as a “bag of words,” improved its results to prioritize reputable news sources, and even added augmented reality results to searches. If you’re intrigued by the new logos in your search results, Google provided instructions on how to change or add a favicon in search results for those who don’t know. Lifehacker also provided instructions on how to apply filters to undo the favicon nonsense and revert back to how the search results used to look. You can decide which how-to is the more useful. Source: It’s not just you: Google added annoying icons to search on desktop (The Verge)
  7. Google 'profile cards' will let you control what people see when they search for you Google is bringing public profile cards to everyone (Image credit: Shutterstock) Google's 'knowledge panel' cards appear at the top of the results page when you search for well-known people. Perform a search for Barack Obama, for instance, and you'll see a summary of information pulled in from Wikipedia, some key pieces of information, links to social media profiles, and more. Now it seems that Google plans to give everyone a similar profile card. The cards will be customizable, so it will be possible to control just what people are able to see about you when they perform a search for your name. Although no official announcement has been made about this yet, Android Police stumbled across three Google pages that talk about the cards and these features they will offer. The profile cards differ from celebrities' knowledge panels in that they are customizable, and could be considered replacements for profiles on the now-dead Google+. While the cards haven't rolled out flobally, Google has already given access to some parts of the world. On one of its support pages, Google explains that: "This feature is only available to some people in India who set their language to English. This feature isn't available yet on desktop." The support pages explain that those who have access to the profile card feature can edit their card via their mobile phone. Google explains that you simply need to visit google.com, sign into your account, search for 'Edit my search card' and then tap 'Edit'. Personalized public profiles Profile cards will not only be customizable, they will be optional. Unlike for celebrities, Google will not automatically create card for individuals – and the company also says that it will be possible to delete them should you change your mind about having one. It appears that content will be vetted as Google explains that certain language and content is not acceptable. Importantly, Google also stresses that it "doesn't guarantee that your card will show up on Google Search". The company adds: "The more info you provide in your card, the more likely it will show up in Google Search results". It's not clear quite when this feature will spread to the rest of the world, or if it will remain mobile-only, but hopefully Google will have something to say about it soon. Source: Google 'profile cards' will let you control what people see when they search for you
  8. Google’s controversial Scroll to Text Fragment feature in Chrome 80 doesn’t work unless you enable a flag. The Text Fragment Anchor which allows linking to a specified word or text on a web page could be available to everyone out of the box with Chrome 81 release, meanwhile, Google which has taken part in the feature’s field trial has shown interest in using it in search results. Google Search is now already using it for featured snippets as we spotted. The feature in question allows users to link to specific content on a page. The chromium team itself mentioned the Scroll to Text fragment will be useful for search results and Wikipedia reference links. This is what Google told to Chromium team when it asked for feedback on the feature after participating in the field trial. “We experimented with Scroll to Text on Featured snippets on Google Search where it scrolls and highlights the same passage on the source page upon opening. We see improvements in search experience as a result of the feature”. Google said the feature will help users to consume additional search results and source page content more effectively. By allowing users to jump to the content that is most relevant to their queries we observe that users consume content on the source page more effectively. Additionally, users end up consuming a wider range of search results. There are already two similar launches within Google Search on a small fraction of traffic. This feature will help greatly expand the coverage”. Well, today in incognito mode in Chrome 80, we’ve been able to see Google showing featured snippets with text fragment appended at the end of URL for a couple of queries. We’ can’t share an image here as we forget to capture the screenshot at that moment. For the unknown, here is how you can create a link to the website article for a certain word. For instance, for Chrome to take you to FAQ word in this article, you need to navigate to this URL in the browser: https://techdows.com/2020/02/chromes-terms-of-service-changing-notification.html#:~:text=FAQ. We’ve covered a bookmarklet that takes the pain out of creating scroll to text links manually in the Chrome browser. Source
  9. Google revealed a change to its mobile search results pages yesterday that is already being rolled out to all users of the search engine. Google Search is the world's most popular search engine and while it lags behind in some regions, it dominates most. The design refresh of the mobile search results pages aims to better guide customers "through the information available on the web". Google notes in the announcement that the new design puts a "website's branding [..] front and center" so that customers "better understand where the information is coming from". Site names and icons are displayed on top of the page or site title in the new design. Previously, each entry started with the page title followed by the site icon and (part of its) URL. Now, entries start with the icon and URL, and then the actual page title. Google believes that the new design makes it easier to scan the results page. Advertisement uses the same format but instead of an icon Ad is shown in its place. It is hard to say if that makes it harder to spot advertisement; the old design draw borders around Ad which helped distinguish it from regular content. I'd say ads blend in even better than before, and that will surely drive more clicks to them. Depending on your query, you may get several pages worth of advertisement and other Google-powered features before the first organic search result. The company plans to put even more features and services (that it controls) on search results pages in the future. As we continue to make new content formats and useful actions available—from buying movie tickets to playing podcasts—this new design allows us to add more action buttons and helpful previews to search results cards [..] Google is still not honoring its quality guidelines when it comes to advertisement (which it enforces on sites), and the injection of even more Google-powered snippets will will keep Internet users even longer on Google's properties. If you don't like where this is heading, try Startpage Search or DuckDuckGo instead. Tip: check out these five tips to get the most out of Startpage. Source: Google changes layout of mobile Google Search pages (gHacks - Martin Brinkmann)
  10. Google ends search provider auctions on Android Google displays a search engine selection screen on Android devices in some regions of the world, including the European Union. The majority of Android devices have Google Search as the default search provider and one complaint that was leveled at Google by regulators from the European Union was that the company pushed manufacturers to keep Google Search and Google Apps as the defaults on their devices. Google made the decision to display a search engine selection screen in those regions. The initial selection process required payments in an auction-like system. Providers who paid the most were included, and those who refused to pay or did not bid enough were not included in the selection process. Some providers refused to participate in the auction because they felt it was putting them at a disadvantage against companies with deeper pockets. The updated Choice Screen support page on the Android website reveals that Google has made changes to the choice screen "in consultation with the European Commission". The auction-based choice screen won't be used anymore and search providers don't have to bid in an auction anymore or pay Google to be included. Android users will see a list of up to 12 search providers in random order. The list includes Google Search and also other providers such as DuckDuckGo, Bing, Ecosia, or Yahoo. The choice screen display and ordering follows the following rules: The five most popular search providers in a region based on StatCounter data will be displayed randomly at the top (including Google). Up to seven additional search providers are displayed randomly after the five search providers at the top. If there are more than seven eligible search providers, seven will be picked from the available providers each time the screen is displayed. Providers need to meet certain criteria if they want to be included: The search engine needs to be a general purpose search engine and not a specialized search engine. The search provider needs to have a free app in Google Play. Search providers must offer local language support in the regions and countries that they want to be included. Search providers need to deliver required technical assets to Google. Closing Words Google was criticized heavily for its auction-based approach and the small number of search providers that it displayed to Android users in the original choice system. The system benefitted providers with deep pockets and meant that many providers would not be displayed to Android users, even if the search engine was more popular or liked than others. The new system is better; the top five search providers will get the bulk of selections but even smaller providers have a chance to be selected. Now You: which search provider do you use on your mobile devices? Source
  11. Google is improving 10 percent of searches by understanding language context Say hello to BERT Google is currently rolling out a change to its core search algorithm that it says could change the rankings of results for as many as one in ten queries. It’s based on cutting-edge natural language processing (NLP) techniques developed by Google researchers and applied to its search product over the course of the past 10 months. In essence, Google is claiming that it is improving results by having a better understanding of how words relate to each other in a sentence. In one example Google discussed at a briefing with journalists yesterday, its search algorithm was able to parse the meaning of the following phrase: “Can you get medicine for someone pharmacy?” The old Google search algorithm treated that sentence as a “bag of words,” according to Pandu Nayak, Google fellow and VP of search. So it looked at the important words, medicine and pharmacy, and simply returned local results. The new algorithm was able to understand the context of the words “for someone” to realize it was a question about whether you could pick up somebody else’s prescription — and it returned the right results. The tweaked algorithm is based on BERT, which stands for “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.” Every word of that acronym is a term of art in NLP, but the gist is that instead of treating a sentence like a bag of words, BERT looks at all the words in the sentence as a whole. Doing so allows it to realize that the words “for someone” shouldn’t be thrown away, but rather are essential to the meaning of the sentence. The way BERT recognizes that it should pay attention to those words is basically by self-learning on a titanic game of Mad Libs. Google takes a corpus of English sentences and randomly removes 15 percent of the words, then BERT is set to the task of figuring out what those words ought to be. Over time, that kind of training turns out to be remarkably effective at making a NLP model “understand” context, according to Jeff Dean, Google senior fellow & SVP of research. Another example Google cited was “parking on a hill with no curb.” The word “no” is essential to this query, and prior to implementing BERT in search Google’s algorithms missed that. Source: Google is improving 10 percent of searches by understanding language context (The Verge)
  12. Google to stop indexing Flash for search With browser makers already putting the kibosh on the once-popular multimedia format, Google search is about to deliver something of a coup de grace. Rob van der Meijden (CC0) Google on Monday announced that it will soon stop indexing Flash content for its search engine, effectively throwing an invisibility cloak over that content. "Google Search will stop supporting Flash later this year," Dong-Hwi Lee, an engineering manager, wrote in a post to the company's Webmaster Central blog. "In Web pages that contain Flash content, Google Search will ignore the Flash content. [And] Google Search will stop indexing standalone .swf files." The .swf extension marks Flash animation files. Minus indexing, searches for Flash content will come up empty. If Google doesn't index it, in other words, does it exist? For the vast majority on the web - analytics vendor Net Applications said Google accounted for 75% of global search activity last month - that would be a no. Flash, on the way out Adobe laid out Flash's demise two years ago when it disclosed that it would stop updating and distributing Flash Player at the end of 2020. At the same time, browser makers revealed how they were going to sunset the player software and thus put an end to the multimedia format. Google, for example, disabled Flash by default in Chrome 76, the version that debuted in July. (Users can manually turn on the Flash Player, as can IT admins through group policies.) Come Chrome 87 - currently slated for a December 2020 release - the browser won't run Flash at all. Mozilla's Firefox also recently met a major Flash milestone: As of September's Firefox 69, the browser required the user to approve every request to run Flash. Shutting down Flash indexing will impact only a fraction of all websites: According to technology survey site W3Techs, only 3% of sites now utilize Flash code. That number climbs when more popular sites are polled; 8.4% of the top-1,000 sites, said W3Techs, contain Flash code. Source: Google to stop indexing Flash for search (Computerworld - Gregg Keizer)
  13. Reckless DMCA Takedown Purges Legitimate Websites from Google Search The homepages of several legitimate organizations, including Live Nation Asia and Living Map, have been removed from Google search results. This is the result of an extremely reckless DMCA takedown notice that also targeted NASA, the BBC, and the UK Government. Over the past few years, copyright holders have asked Google to remove billions of links to allegedly pirated content. Most of these DMCA notices are pretty accurate but occasionally mistakes are made as well, which can do serious harm. This week our eye was drawn to a request that RightsHero filed on behalf of the company Vuclip Middle East, which offers on-demand entertainment to emerging markets. The DMCA notice identifies more than 7,000 URLs that allegedly infringe the copyrights of several movies, including the United Arab Emirates series عود حي, which translates to “Live Oud.” Error After Error When we took a closer look, we soon noticed that the takedown notice is nothing short of a trainwreck that involves some high-profile names. For example, NASA’s live streaming and multimedia pages are targeted. The same is true for Al Jazeera’s live streaming site, as well as the BBC’s page that allows people to stream Radio One. None of these pages are infringing. In fact, the only thing that ties them to the “Live Oud” series is the word ‘live’, which comes back in other reported URLs as well. In fact, the takedown notice is filled with these ‘live’ errors. It lists a page from the UK Government which gives advice on living in Austria, a page where Apple provides information on Live Photos, and the ‘Live’ entry in the Cambridge dictionary. We can go on for a while but the point is clear. This DMCA notice should have never been sent. The good news is that Google caught all the errors we pointed out above. This means that these were not removed from search results. Homepages Removed Unfortunately, not all targeted sites were that lucky. We spotted several legitimate websites that had their homepages removed from Google simply because they somehow reference the word “live” or “living.” This includes the homepage of Live Nation Asia, the Living Architecture website, as well as the homepage of the UK technology company Living Map. All have been purged from Google, which shows the following message at the bottom of the search results. “In response to a complaint that we received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 12 result(s) from this page.” Needless to say, these are all obvious errors that should have been avoided if there was some human oversight. It also shows how risky relying on ‘automated filters’ and ‘takedown bots’ can be. Reckless DMCA Takedown Purges Legitimate Websites from Google Search
  14. Microsoft’s Edge browser is crashing if you have Google set as default search There’s a temporary workaround Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge Microsoft’s new Edge browser started randomly crashing when users typed into the address bar tonight. The issues appear to have affected Edge users who have selected Google as the default search engine. Microsoft investigated the problem and now says it’s believed to have been resolved. Microsoft recommends turning off Search Suggestions in edge://settings/search. The Verge has tested this workaround and it solves the problem if you have Google set as your default search engine. The Microsoft Edge crashes started at around 7PM ET, and are affecting macOS and Windows users. It’s not clear why they’re only limited to Google search users in Edge, though. If you switch to Microsoft’s Bing search engine within Edge, the crashes do not occur. Update, July 30th, 11.30PM ET: Added comment from Microsoft. Microsoft’s Edge browser is crashing if you have Google set as default search
  15. Google now highlights featured snippet text within a page once you open it Google is making a new improvement to the featured snippets in its search results. If you're unfamiliar, featured snippets are a special kind of search result, which appears in a box at the top of the list, and presents a snippet of the text in the webpage above the link to it. As reported by Search Engine Land (via The Verge), Google has now added support for a new feature, which will highlight that snippet text on the full webpage, should you choose to open it. What's more, Google will try to automatically scroll down to wherever the snippet text is located inside the webpage, potentially skipping past ads or less relevant information. Image credit: Search Engine Land Image credit: Search Engine Land Google's Danny Sullivan confirmed the feature, saying this has been done with AMP webpages since 2018, and that the company has been testing the feature with HTML pages since last year. Since last week, this is now being done regularly for these pages. The feature is based on the ScrollToTextFragment, which is a relatively new web technology being developed by the Web Incubator Community Group at W3C, and it's still being discussed or implemented in some browsers. As noted by Google on the Chrome Platform Status page, public reception of the feature has been mixed, so it might only work in Chrome for now. Google now highlights featured snippet text within a page once you open it
  16. The Blurred Lines and Closed Loops of Google Search Seemingly small design tweaks to the search results interface may change how and where people find information online. January 13 was a fairly eventful day, at least for pre-pandemic times. Cory Booker dropped out of the presidential race. LSU trounced Clemson in the college football national championship game. Attorney general William Barr asked Apple to unlock an iPhone. And Google pushed out a seemingly tiny tweak to how it displays search ads for desktop computers. Previously, the search engine had marked paid results with the word “Ad” in a green box, tucked beneath the headline next to a matching green display URL. Now, all of a sudden, the “Ad” and the URL shifted above the headline, and both were rendered in discreet black; the box disappeared. The organic search results underwent a similar makeover, only with a new favicon next to the URL instead of the word “Ad.” The result was a general smoothing: Ads looked like not-ads. Not-ads looked like ads. This was not Google's first time fiddling with the search results interface. In fact, it had done so quite regularly over the past 13 years, as handily laid out in a timeline from the news site Search Engine Land. Each iteration whittled away the distinction between paid and unpaid content that much more. Most changes went relatively unnoticed, internet residents accepting the creep like the apocryphal frog in a slowly boiling pot. But in January, amid rising antitrust drumbeats and general exhaustion with Big Tech, people noticed. Interface designers, marketers, and Google users alike decried the change, saying it made paid results practically indistinguishable from those that Google’s search algorithm served up organically. The phrase that came up most often: “dark pattern,” a blanket term coined by UX specialist Harry Brignull to describe manipulative design elements that benefit companies over their users. “We conduct hundreds of thousands of quality tests and experiments each year to ensure that every product change makes Search more helpful and improves the user experience," a Google spokesperson said in a statement to WIRED. "Google is an industry leader when it comes to providing unambiguous ad labeling, guided by extensive research that shows that these labels help people clearly distinguish between paid and organic content." That a small design tweak could inspire so much backlash speaks to the profound influence Google and other ubiquitous platforms have—and the responsibility that status confers to them. “Google and Facebook shape realities,” says Kat Zhou, a product designer who has created a framework and tool kit to help promote ethical design. “Students and professors turn to Google for their research. Folks turn to Facebook for political news. Communities turn to Google for Covid-19 updates. In some sense, Google and Facebook have become arbiters of the truth. That’s particularly scary when you factor in their business models, which often incentivize blurring the line between news and advertisements.” Google’s not the only search engine to blur this line. If anything, Bing is even more opaque, sneaking the “Ad” disclosure under the header, with only a faint outline to draw attention. Here’s what a Bing search for DoorDash gets you: Screenshot: Bing Tricksy! You'll notice the knowledge box on the righthand side, too. But Google has around 92 percent of global search market share. It effectively is online search. Dark patterns are all too common online in general, and January wasn’t the first time people accused Google of deploying them. In June 2018, a blistering report from the Norwegian Consumer Council found that Google and Facebook both used specific interface choices to strip away user privacy at almost every turn. The study details how both platforms implemented the least privacy-friendly options by default, consistently “nudged” users toward giving away more of their data, and more. It paints a portrait of a system designed to befuddle users into complacency. That confusion reached its apex a few months later, when an Associated Press investigation found that disabling Location History on your smartphone did not, in fact, stop Google from collecting your location in all instances. Shutting off that data spigot altogether required digging through the settings on an Android smartphone. It took eight taps to reach, assuming you knew exactly where to go—and Google didn’t exactly provide road signs. In May of this year, Arizona attorney general Mark Brnovich sued Google under the state’s Consumer Fraud Act, alleging "widespread and systemic use of deceptive and unfair business practices to obtain information about the location of its users.” Even a privacy-focused Google software engineer didn’t understand how location controls worked, according to recently unsealed court documents from the case first reported by the Arizona Mirror. “Speaking as a user, WTF?” reads the chat log. "The attorney general filing this lawsuit appears to have mischaracterized our services," another Google spokesperson, Jose Castaneda, said. "We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data. We look forward to setting the record straight." Castaneda also called the employee communications surfaced in the court documents "cherry-picked published extracts," which "state clearly that the team's goal was to 'Reduce confusion around Location History Settings.'" Google has taken steps in recent years to give users more control over how long it keeps the data that it collects. A feature added in 2019 let you set your “Web & App Activity” to delete automatically after three or 18 months, and this summer Google implemented auto-deletion of data for even more categories by default for new accounts. It has also made it easier to adjust your privacy settings directly from within search, meaning you have to dig less to find them, and introduced Incognito Mode to YouTube and Google Maps. "We are unequivocally committed to providing prominent, transparent and clear privacy controls, and we continue to raise the bar, with improvements like making auto-delete the default for our core activity settings," Google said in its statement. Critics say that the company has not gone far enough. “We are aware that Google has made a number of minor improvements,” says Gro Mette Moen, acting digital policy director of the Norwegian Consumer Council. “However, as far as we have seen, none of these changes address the main issue: Consumers are still led to accept a large amount of tracking.” They’re also led to accept a large amount of, well, Google. A detailed investigation by the Markup last month found that in 15,000 queries examined, nearly half of the first page of mobile search results were designed to keep the user on Google, rather than directing them to another website. Those responses consisted of both Google’s own properties and the “direct answers,” the snippets Google pulls from outside sites to display right in the results. Google has called the Markup's methodology "flawed and misleading," arguing that it pertains to a "non-representative" set of samples. "Providing feedback links, helping people reformulate queries or explore topics, and presenting quick facts is not designed to preference Google," the company said in its statement. "These features are fundamentally in the interest of users, which we validate through a rigorous testing process." It's true that not having to click saves you time, and Google says it approaches queries like weather or sports scores differently from those with answers that are better served by going to a website. It notes that it drives "billions of visits to sites across the web every day." But critics of the company claim that expediency is a self-serving rationale that ignores wider harms to the internet as a whole. Not only does the practice stifle the growth of the non-Google sites that it pulls from, they say, it further cements Google’s position as the predominant end point of knowledge rather than a conduit. “I’m not convinced that Google’s dedicating a huge portion of the search results to Google is ‘convenient’ for users at all, seeing as it often obscures relevant information and definitely doesn’t contribute to the overall health of the web,” Zhou says. “Google’s choice to surface its own content first has serious implications on whether users are exposed to the most valid and relevant results.” The term “dark pattern” is inherently squishy. A confusing menu could be the product of malign intent or just a function of a labyrinthine legacy operating system. Turning your internet springboard into a one-stop shop might save users time, or it might limit their worldview to the confines of your algorithms. Or both. That ambiguity also means that dark patterns, calculated or not, are everywhere. “Although companies have the responsibility to not manipulate or deceive consumers, there is no doubt that every internet user will encounter dark patterns online on a daily basis,” Moen says. “The best way to avoid being tricked by dark patterns is by being aware that you are seeing a dark pattern.” There are signs of that awareness flickering more broadly. Go back to January 13, and that seemingly small change. The pushback was loud and sustained enough that Google partially rolled it back; the favicons on organic search headers were gone, making it slightly easier to spot the ads for what they were. Here's what that same search for DoorDash looks like on Google today: Screenshot: Google “The adverse reaction to Google’s revamped search results could very well be the result of rising digital literacy in some segments of society,” says Zhou. Emphasis on “some.” “Digital literacy is a byproduct of privilege—the privilege to be exposed to such curricula at all, the privilege to have consistent access to a computer or smartphone, the privilege to have reliable internet.” Without that privilege—and, too often, even with it—manipulative design elements can stack the deck in favor of the platforms powering so much of the internet today, be it social media or retail or banking or search. A healthier internet will require staying alert and informed—and helping others do so as well. The Blurred Lines and Closed Loops of Google Search
  17. Google is testing dark mode for Search on the web through a Chrome flag on Android Google recently began rolling out a dark theme to the Google app on Android. The theme helps with cutting down the brightness in the app when users view it in the dimly lit conditions and was a nifty addition for those that prefer that theme. However, the search giant has also been working on bringing a dark mode to the Google.com website’s search results page. Interestingly, a code change (spotted by 9to5Google) in Chromium last month suggested that the dark themed webpage would be triggered by a Chrome flag. Today, users of Google Chrome Canary and Dev can test out the dark mode on Google Search on the web for Android by tweaking the Chrome flags. Users can head to chrome://flags on either of the browsers, search for ‘Show darkened search pages on Android’, enable that flag, and relaunch the browser. Users will then notice that the search results page, on searching for any keyword, has turned dark. The other way that users can try out the dark theme on the search page is by adding an “&cs=1” suffix to the URL of the search page. This works only in Chrome, regardless of the version. It is not clear why the Mountain View company would go with a browser flag to enable dark mode on its web search page. Additionally, it looks like the mode is still work in progress, as there are rough edges and inconsistent iconography in the result cards. Source: 9to5Google Source: Google is testing dark mode for Search on the web through a Chrome flag on Android (Neowin)
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