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Sunlight Society research studies search engine algorithms and impact on decision making

The Outline, Jon Christian: “Meet the man trying to catch Google search at its worst. Robert Epstein may be paranoid, but he is right when he says search engines should be kept in check. Earlier this week, we wrote about how Google can highlight erroneous or unconfirmed reports in the immediate aftermath of breaking news. But these rapidly-shifting results are quickly lost in time as the search engine’s algorithms self-correct, making it difficult for outsiders — including journalists — to hold the search engine accountable for spreading potentially harmful information. There is one group working on a concept for a system that would establish a record of search engine results. The idea is similar to the Internet Archive, which downloads periodic copies of websites, but more complicated since search engines display different results depending on the time as well as the location and history of the user. The solution for tracking such a complicated system is described in a prospectus for the Sunlight Society, founded by a group of 20 researchers under the banner of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology (AIBRT), a nonprofit in Vista, California that conducts research in psychology and tech. The concept is similar to Nielsen Media Research’s longstanding system that collects information about audience size and demographics of television viewers through meters installed in households around the country. But instead of monitoring TV habits of real people, the system would monitor their internet use. This would require a worldwide network of paid collaborators who would provide the Sunlight Society with access to their search results…”

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