“Privacy-Focused Browsers” Help Spread Vaccine Misinformation?

I just looked up the term vaccines autism on DuckDuckGo and the vast majority of the results were pointing to sources such as the Mayo Clinic, CDC, WebMD, the FDA, etc. I had to get pretty far before I found anything resembling what could be an anti-vaccine source. The few that initially appeared in my web query were from opinion websites. Even the below article admits Google dominates the search engine market and its not clear if the different privacy approaches result in different search outcomes. This research sounds political in an attempt to demonize private search engines while flying cover for Google whose executive admitted to changing search algorithms and will be sued by the Justice Department in the coming weeks for antitrust violations.

Privacy-focused browsers return more health misinformation, researchers claim

By Laurie Clarke, September 4th, 2020, NSTech

A new study overseen by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) claims that privacy-preserving browsers such as DuckDuckGo return more health misinformation – such as anti-vaccine sites – than Google. 

The study, published in Frontiers in Medicine, analysed the first 30 webpages returned for the search term “vaccines autism”, to gauge the volume of anti-vax information that came up. It found that “alternative” search engines (Duckduckgo, Ecosia, Qwant, Swisscows, and Mojeek) and other commercial engines (Bing, Yahoo) returned between 10-53 per cent anti-vaccine pages, while Google returned 0 per cent. 

Google has attracted growing criticism in recent years over the vast amount of personal data it hoovers up. This has led to privacy-focused rivals such as DuckDuckGo popping up, which have gained a vocal support base in a short period of time. 

DuckDuckGo expressly avoids personalising users’ search results to negate the filter bubble effect. It collates search results from more than 400 sources, but none from Google. Its website indicates that traffic has continually risen from its inception in 2013 – reaching more than 55 million searches in a day this month. However, Google still massively dominates – accounting for more than 90 per cent of the search market. 

The authors of the study, which was overseen by the OII’s Professor Luciano Floridi and included contributions from research students across Europe, argue that their findings indicate a trade-off between a browser’s privacy and “information quality”. But it’s not clear whether different approaches to privacy actually explains the differences in the respective browsers’ search results. 

Google’s search results are determined by a number of different algorithms that take into account various factors including “words of your query, relevance and usability of pages, expertise of sources and your location and settings”, according to its site.