A series of incremental changes over the years has transformed the tool from an explorative search function to one that is ripe for deception.
As research has shown, much of these design changes now link back to Google properties, placing its products above competitors. Instead of showing just a series of blue links, its goal, according to official SEC documents filed by Alphabet, is to increasingly “provide direct answers.” By adding all of these features, Google—as well as competitors such as DuckDuckGo and Bing, which also summarize content—has effectively changed the experience from an explorative search environment to a platform designed around verification, replacing a process that enables learning and investigation with one that is more like a fact-checking service.
Google’s latest desire to answer our questions for us, rather than requiring us to click on the returns and find the answers for ourselves, is not particularly problematic if what you’re seeking is a straightforward fact like how many ounces make up a gallon. The problem is, many rely on search engines to seek out information about more convoluted topics. And, as my research reveals, this shift can lead to incorrect returns that often disrupt democratic participation, confirm unsubstantiated claims, and are easily manipulatable by people looking to spread falsehoods.