The Googleization of Information Search: Search Engines between Usage and Regulation

Search engines are a janus-headed tool on the Internet: Without their sorting, structuring, and filtering help, using the Internet in the usual way would be simply impossible. Only through the search algorithms, their constant browsing through the countless pages in the World Wide Web and the concise preparation of search results, the users can find (and sometimes even maybe even find out) what they are looking for.

The flip side of this usefulness are the search engines’ inevitable selection decisions: They provide the users with specific information while necessarily denying them others. The users themselves reinforce the importance of the search engine result pages by their behavior: They are often unaware that the search results are just one of many possible sets of results, thus relying on an imaginary objectivity of the offer, and tend to only superficially evaluate results. The extraordinarily high concentration of the search engine market aggravates these problems: In Germany, for example, the users choose the offer of a single provider in almost all cases – Google. That is, very few companies have enormous influence on the compilation of information that is received online.

This interdisciplinary project at the interface between communication research, media education and media law examines the influence of these developments on the information search behavior of recipients as well as on the society as a whole. It investigates three dimensions that are closely related in reality but were considered isolated in previous research: technology (personalization algorithms), search engine literacy and search engine regulation. To that aim, the project combines quantitative and qualitative approaches, surveys and interviews with users, and experimental designs, and evaluates the empirical results evaluated from a media law perspective. By this integrative approach, the project makes a significant contribution to understanding and forecasting current and future societal developments.

Collaborators

Birgit Stark (JGU Mainz, Germany)
Melanie Magin (JGU Mainz, Germany)
Pascal Jürgens (JGU Mainz, Germany)
Dieter Dörr (JGU Mainz, Germany)
Simon Schuster (JGU Mainz, Germany)
Stefan Aufenanger (JGU Mainz, Germany)

Funding

Research Unit Media Convergence of JGU Mainz

Project Duration

2012-2015