The Australian Search Experience plugin assists research that will improve collective understandings of contemporary search engines.
When you use a search engine, do you see the same results as your colleagues, friends, or family do? If not, why is that? Are search results personalised especially for you? If so, what are the criteria? Which topics do search engines suggest to you and other users?
We want to find out. With your help.
There is a lot of speculation about the impact that search engines have on the information we encounter. In fact, we know very little about how they order and display information.
But search engines are so central to our daily lives that we need a way to independently assess the information they recommend.
We want to achieve this with a crowdsourcing project, and we invite you to participate in this project if you are currently residing in Australia and are aged 18 or older.
The more Australian Internet users support us, the better are the results we will get. So please help us by installing our browser plug-in, which automatically queries leading search engines for key topics from your computer up to six times per day. Your data donation will enable us to determine which factors have an influence on the weighting of the search results. The plugin will not access or transmit any personally identifiable information.
The Australian Search Experience project is funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society (ADM+S), and coordinated by researchers from Queensland University of Technology. It is based on a similar project that was led by our project partner, the non-profit organisation AlgorithmWatch, in Germany in 2017.
Browsers such as Firefox, Chrome, and Opera can be expanded by installing plugins (also called extensions), which can add new functions to the browser.
Our browser plugin queries a number of leading search engines up to six times a day (every 4 hours). This only happens when your computer is switched on and the browser is running. At those times, the plugin starts new queries for a set of search terms that we have selected, and sends the list of search results back to our database. The search queries include a number of set keywords (e.g. the names of leading politicians or major celebrities), and some keywords that we will vary based on current events. The plugin won’t collect or transmit any personally identifiable information (e.g. your personal profile details, your own search history, etc.).
In short: we do not monitor what you yourself search for – we simply run our own searches from your browser, to see whether the results that you would see for those searches are different from the results that other users receive.
During the plugin installation, we will also ask you to provide some basic demographic details (e.g. age range, gender, overall location). We use this information to investigate whether different demographic groups see different search results – but we will not be able to use them to identify you personally, and you can choose to provide only those details that you are comfortable with.
We will publish updates on the outcomes of this research project from time to time on this page – please check back if you are interested to see them.
The plugin will continue to run its search queries until you manually disable it in your browser, or until we deactivate it at the conclusion of the project, on 30 June 2022. In keeping with the ‘data donation’ philosophy, the full dataset will be shared at the end of the project via a public data repository. However, it will not be possible for anybody to identify you personally from this public dataset.