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Google: Fighting the Climate War on Both Sides?


I’ve been hard on Google in the past.

Image credit: Creative Commons/Taniae

But it’s time to give them some credit. This ‘do no evil’ corporation is virtually unrivaled in its billions of dollars in clean energy investments. Over the summer, Google made its largest renewable energy investment yet when it set up a $280 million fund to finance home solar rooftop installations. And last month, the search giant announced its intention to invest $5 billion in an undersea transmission cable that will facilitate wind energy development along the east coast of the US.

The benefits Google reaps as a result of these investments aren’t limited to profit and good PR. They’ve also helped make their country (and their world) more energy-secure, and more resistant to climate change.

Despite these good works, Google also contributes indirectly to climate change, by the very nature of their search engine. Google retains a record not only of your past searches but also of which links you clicked on. It then uses this information to show you more of the same.

In other words, Google prioritizes the links you are likely to already agree with. If the links you normally follow lead to right-leaning material, it will show you more of those. If you have a past of clicking on historical links, you’ll get more history. And if you’re already skeptical about climate change, and you generally click on links that defy the science, you’re unlikely to see anything that challenges your beliefs.

This is called a ‘filter bubble’. If it concerns you, there are alternatives. I recently switched to DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t keep any information on your searches. Of course, DuckDuckGo doesn’t have billions at its disposal to invest in renewable energy.

Other services create a filter bubble too, including Facebook.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. John Erickson permalink
    11/06/2011 5:51 PM

    I think I would be VERY unnerved to see my “filter bubble”. I think it would require a few terrabytes of data to support!
    Then again, there’s a reason I’m a Yahoo, and for more than one reason at that. ;)

  2. 11/06/2011 8:15 PM

    You’re a Yahoo, eh? I’m Aries. ;)

    • John Erickson permalink
      11/06/2011 10:11 PM

      Or I’m a Capricorn – by 4 minutes. Kinda interchangeable with Yahoo. Also interchangeable with Stooge. “Oh, a wiseguy, eh? Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!” :D

  3. 11/09/2011 8:01 PM

    Hi Scott, I just found your site after reading your comment on Sherry’s One Earth to Live blog.

    Why am I not surprised to find out that Google does this? Though I can’t figure out how it benefits them. A user sees more of what they like and chooses to stick with the same search engine, I guess? If only we could opt out! A girl can dream…

    • 11/09/2011 9:11 PM

      I haven’t given much thought to how filter bubbles profit Google, or any of the other companies that have implemented them. I think I just assumed they believe filter bubbles will help them create a better service. Now that I think about it, though, you have a good point–I guess users would be more likely to use other services if they continually encountered material that contradicted their views!

      At any rate, welcome to the blog! Hope to see you again soon :)

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