It is Time for Public Noncommercial Search

Google provides an extremely valuable tool with its search engine.  It allows anyone with an internet connection to search the web for free (i.e. no upfront monetary cost).  The idea of this tool is and has been life changing to everyone around the world, but as shown in Safiya Umoja Noble’s book Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, it is coming at an enormous cost.  I have been using Google for as long as I can remember and “Googling it” has become apart of the 21st Century vernacular.  I like to think that I am a relatively decent user of Google (and search engines in general), in that I know I will typically need to try multiple search terms and in some cases, might even have to go on to the second or third page to find a result that suits my needs.  After working with high school students for the past few years, I have seen first hand that students (on the whole) not only do students not go beyond the first page of search results, but they do not look beyond the first or second result on the first page. Based on this and the information in Noble’s book, what appears first on a Google search is incredibly important and can be incredibly damaging because of the harmful and racist results that consistently show up in Google searches.

Google Meme

Search engines are clearly important and it has become increasingly obvious that “we are the product that Google sells to advertisers” (162).  Search has become incredibly commercialized and has become one of the ways Google has amassed tens of billions of dollars in cash. After all of the problems described by Noble in her text with the flawed and racist search algorithm and based on the importance of search engines, I think the U.S. government should fund a public noncommercial search engine project.  I am not sure how the logistics of this would work, but a founding principle would be that the search engine is not ad-supported and does not collect user data unless users opt-in and want to share details like their current location or other preferences. It could follow the model that Noble presents on page 180 of her book, where she presented a vision of an indexable web that is color-coded and easy to understand.  I do not think this search engine would be perfect, but it would be way better than what we currently have. It would provide the American people with a crucial tool that would put accurate and worthwhile information first. I am sure there would be inherent biases in its construction since code is still written by (mostly white male) human beings, but I think if it was a huge, collaborative effort, we could come out with a great final product that would allow the internet to be closer to what it was supposed to be with its idealistic beginnings in the early 1990s.  This would no doubt be a humongous project that would take a lot of time, effort, and resources to create, but it could have a profound impact. We should not allow corporations to make these decisions for us, monetize and exploit our data, and give us racist results. We need this now, more than ever if want to create a more perfect, more democratic nation.

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