How Evil Works: Google's New Contextual Search and You...

29 replies
I was studying a recent patent by Google entitled: "Determining Query Term Synonyms with Query Context." (you can read it here).

Now I don not consider Google Evil (well, not too evil yet), but if you have read David Kupelian's Book "How Evil Works" you can see how what I discuss below has major impacts for all of us in the Internet Marketing world, and in the world at large.

For those of you with a programming or linguistic bent, this should set off a few bells as you should be able to see some of the implications here. Basically Google is pursuing (and has been pursuing for some time) something called "Natural Language Processing" or "NLP". For a comprehensive list of free and payfor libraries and programs on NLP go here: (LingPipe). This latest patent gives Google the ability to correctly understand the context of your search in a similar manner to the way you or I understand conversation. We glean the users meaning of a word by the context provided by the other words used. For example when we say "hot dog" we know the speaker is not talking about boiling a puppy...unless the words were used in the context of a joke. Google is beginning to understand these subtle differences.

But what is a bit disturbing is this quote directly from the patent itself:

A method is applied to search terms for determining synonyms or other replacement terms used in an information retrieval system. User queries are first sorted by user identity and session. For each user query, a plurality of pseudo-queries is determined, each pseudo-query derived from a user query by replacing a phrase of the user query with a token. For each phrase, at least one candidate synonym is determined. The candidate synonym is a term that was used within a user query in place of the phrase, and in the context of a pseudo-query. The strength or quality of candidate synonyms is evaluated. Validated synonyms may be either suggested to the user or automatically added to user search strings.
Note the bold section... User identity and session. That means your collective searches and other identifying information indexed by your IP address in case your not sure... This is that privacy thing creeping in, and now officially admitted to in a patent by the company. Frankly, while contextual search is a really cool thing, I really do not want them collecting this deep kind of information about me - because now it is getting into my head itself as context is indexed against other information.

The problem with this sort of thing is that it will eventually allow google to guess accurately about a users intention. Now imagine google working with police or security agencies - pre-crime anyone?

A more immediate concern of this new form of searching, is of course with regard to our marketing and SEO efforts. Context, semantics, meanings, and intentions can now be gleaned by what your write - but biases for or against your intentions can be added by the search company as well. This could lead to a more subtle form of "censorship" - the company builds in a bias to their semantic contextual search, and your ranking goes down because they don't like you, not because your content is no good.

Something to start thinking about...

-DTM
#googleplex #news #views
  • Profile picture of the author greff
    very interesting, indeed

    Until now I was not concerned. Shame on me.
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  • Profile picture of the author David McKee
    From the privacy perspective, the problem is that "searching" for something as a technology is outstripping the ability to "hide" something. Privacy means having the ability to do the latter weather you exercise that ability or not.

    From the marketing perspective, the search is no longer unbiased (or we cannot ever be sure that it is unbiased). This may eventually lead to a true fracture and real competition against google and other giant search conglomerates. we will see.
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  • Profile picture of the author David McKee
    Wow, I really thought more people in the marketing arena would be more concerned about this - hmmm.
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    • Profile picture of the author Hasan Barbary
      Originally Posted by David McKee View Post

      Wow, I really thought more people in the marketing arena would be more concerned about this - hmmm.
      I suspect a lot of folks...

      1) don't really understand the implications of personal data-harvesting in the "cloud"; and/or

      2) if they DO understand it, they don't like to think about it because it brings up an ugly truth I call "The Marketers Dilemma".

      Gathering intel on your prospects ~ aka "knowing your target audience" ~ is a foundational goal of ALL sales & marketing. It certainly predates Google or IM. I worked for years as a telemarketer in the 80's: the technology was different, but the concerns were the same.

      Mrs Jane Doe: "How did you get my #?"

      Me: Well, ma'am, you filled out that raffle entry card at the mall...

      Jane Doe: "Yes, but that was for Blue Widgets; I didn't sign up for Green Gizmos.."

      Me: Of course, but many Blue Widgets customers just like you have fallen in love with our new Green Gizmos, and we're having a sale today especially for you....

      The marketers used list purchasing, buyer behavior and demographics to bring highly targeted ("contextual") offers to old & new prospects... and it worked. Then the big telecoms got too aggressive with the whole long-distance contract "Slamming" thing, and there was a consumer backlash.

      Sold Lists vs. Caller ID blocking has now become Cookie & IP tracking/GPS "augmented reality" vs. proxy servers & Private Browsing tabs.

      Both these scenarios have much in common: they make headlines, they make Class-Action lawsuits, but they also make millionaires!

      It's a never-ending cycle; "The Marketers Dilemma" is that we want to know EVERYTHING LEGALLY POSSIBLE about visitors to our websites, subscribers to our lists, etc, and yet many of us want to remain as anonymous as possible to the Big G. We want to "leave no footprints", as they say.

      I admit I find it to be somewhat of an ethical paradox. All the major search engines, as well as the big social networking properties are all moving towards more user-specific, localized queries. That information is gold and of course I'm gonna try & leverage it to my advantage.

      On the other hand, I have noticed that many Warriors here haven't yet grokked the fact that if you're doing any kind of keyword research or SEO work at all, your results will be skewed unless you're employing serious privacy countermeasures. We need to exercise some justifiable professional paranoia.

      It's not enough just to be signed out of Gmail. If I'm trying to get a site to rank, or scoping out the competition, well then you'd better believe that I'm gonna run through a Premium JAP cluster and do all my searching through Scroogle Scraper.

      Google didn't start off being Evil, but now their enormous mass and extensive reach is creating a Black Hole effect: they are pulled to the "Dark Side" by the weight of their own ambition, greed, and technological dominance. And their search algorithms will always be subservient to their AdWords revenue.

      Google is not quite Big Brother yet, or the Borg, but they are scary. Listening to Matt Cutts lecture wannabe "Do Gooder" webmasters, while closely observing what actually goes on with AdWords campaigns is like immersing oneself into a vat of pure hypocrisy.

      Oh well, it's the "cesspool" we choose to play in. Come on down, the water's fine... :rolleyes:
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  • Profile picture of the author TheRichJerksNet
    David,
    People put too much concern on google... They are evil plain and simple. I use bing myself for search and smaller niche search engines for other research.

    Far to many people put all their marketing efforts into google and google alone, this is a huge mistake.

    James
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    • Profile picture of the author David McKee
      Originally Posted by TheRichJerksNet View Post

      David,
      People put too much concern on google... They are evil plain and simple. I use bing myself for search and smaller niche search engines for other research.

      Far to many people put all their marketing efforts into google and google alone, this is a huge mistake.

      James
      I agree, however the fact is it is still the most used search engine from the customer perspective, and of course the privacy issues remain. Bing, of course, is also using advanced contextual search methods and that is really the gist of my post - how do these methods really affect the SEO techniques we employ going forward. The niche keyword scenario is going to become much more semantically relevant than it has in the past.

      -DTM
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      • Profile picture of the author TheRichJerksNet
        Originally Posted by David McKee View Post

        I agree, however the fact is it is still the most used search engine from the customer perspective, and of course the privacy issues remain. Bing, of course, is also using advanced contextual search methods and that is really the gist of my post - how do these methods really affect the SEO techniques we employ going forward. The niche keyword scenario is going to become much more semantically relevant than it has in the past.

        -DTM
        Google to me is worth 1 thing and 1 thing only.. Search traffic! I use none of their tools, I use bing and other smaller search engines for searches.

        With that said... I stated about a month ago on this forum the search engines are looking for Social Validation of your site, meaning social media and other forms of social interactions.

        While SEO will never really die, they are not putting the main focus on SEO anymore. Your content should be written for readers anyways and not search engines.

        James
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    • Profile picture of the author xiaophil
      Hi, David.

      I wouldn't be too worried about this, at least not for the reasons you're citing.

      This is about paraphrasing. By finding different ways of phrasing the same search query they can return more relevant results even if the person searching didn't use those particular words. Appropriate paraphrases and synonyms are likely to be found within past users sessions when they tried many different search terms to find what they were looking for ( as one does). When they say identity and session, it just means the data from a particular group of queries, and can be (and most probably is) anonymized.

      Automated paraphrasing is not a simple task and the most effective methods, including this one it would appear, use statistical techniques applied to human generated content.

      Cheers,

      Phil
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  • Profile picture of the author mikemac1
    @David McKee - Interesting find and I really thinks it's a double edge sword for us marketers.

    On the one hand, if Google is able to better understand the people who use their search and then they provide that info to us and I'm better able to target my demos then I think that's great (and let's face it, they have to keep up or exceed what Facebook can offer in the way of demo targeting).

    On the other hand, you're right there are privacy concerns, but I don't see how we can get away from this as Bing, Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. and any site we might use to target our prospects will need to collect private data, this has been happening and will continue to happen.

    Don't forget, you mentioned Google cooperating with gov't agencies, they have been doing this for years especially with search, just look at how they supply the CDC with "flu" search info so that they can better track outbreaks.
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  • Profile picture of the author Paul Hancox
    If you're worried about it from a user point of view, use http://www.startpage.com as they don't record IP address.
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  • Profile picture of the author DogScout
    That is a patent request to patent artificial intelligence. In actuality it is not artificial, it is merely created by man instead of God, or if you prefer evolved on it's own.

    That leaves you to wonder if a sentient being, even one created by man, (IE a clone?) has any rights. So far all rights granted refer to 'human' rights since to date humans are the only sentient things on this planet (that we know of).

    This patent, if granted is a precedent to sentient but non-human slavery as it would mean a sentient thing...in this case a group of computers) is property and though it would understand self-determination, it would legally not be allowed to act on it.

    That would further open the door that a rich person could clone themselves and use the clones for 'parts'. Or clone themselves or others and use them as slaves. (Slavery is a natural human condition, that we do not engage in it right now in this country (USA) is an historical anomaly. This patent would further the cause of slavery, but limit it to 'non-human sentient beings' like clones or computers that will someday be built (if there are none yet) that have the ability to think for themselves and are self-aware.

    Oh, yeah They are evil and not using them, while that is OK, the fact remains they have probably been the largest single political force in the last year; even more so than the state of the economy. Personally, I wouldn't want them to have any focus on me! There is no telling what they are capable of doing. Morally this very patent says to me they have no morals and will do anything to further whatever agenda they might have at any given time. (I hope this post doesn't hit page one)
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  • Profile picture of the author bgmacaw
    Here's where Google is heading....

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  • Profile picture of the author Sandeep Shah
    If your content is really good, it is the responsibility of the search engine to bring it to the target visitor.

    Now this is what is really happening:

    Evil marketers with auto blogs and low-quality content will suffer.

    High quality blogs will get more traffic.

    And if you have good intentions, why worry about precrime.?
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    • Profile picture of the author TheRichJerksNet
      Originally Posted by Sandeep Shah View Post

      Evil marketers with auto blogs and low-quality content will suffer.
      Careful now you may upset a few evil marketers that are lazy and love their auto blogs.... It's a shame 15 years ago most of what is done today was "manual". Those was the good old days.

      Seems each year that passes and technology increases people get more and more lazier....

      James
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    • Profile picture of the author bgmacaw
      Originally Posted by Sandeep Shah View Post

      Evil marketers with auto blogs and low-quality content will suffer.
      I somehow doubt that thefind.com and nextag.com will be hurting.
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  • Profile picture of the author David McKee
    Well, like all huge companies that come along, they get so far away from being able to see their original good intentions, and get so focused on big hulking projects and bureaucratic layers of management that they eventually begin to move slowly and onerously - which gives rise to new opportunities and new businesses. Look at IBM when Micro-soft was a wee little business. And now MS is the giant who may be toppled by open source, Linux, and even Google OS - and then Google will perhaps tumble...

    Unless... unless Google becomes "government" - and then things can go very wrong with the typical capitalistic system. Then the giant rotting corpses can be propped up and kept artificially alive, which crushes the smaller, faster companies.

    Think our current administration would say that "Google is too big to fail"? Something to consider.

    -DTM
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    • Profile picture of the author TheRichJerksNet
      Nobody is too big to fail... Not sure where the article is right now but go look up who bought MySQL and you will see what I mean...

      Edit : Here we go 3 times a charm..lol - http://helpmysql.org/en/theissue/customerspaythebill

      Now if you know anything about programming this is huge, could prove to change things in a drastic way...

      James

      Originally Posted by David McKee View Post

      Well, like all huge companies that come along, they get so far away from being able to see their original good intentions, and get so focused on big hulking projects and bureaucratic layers of management that they eventually begin to move slowly and onerously - which gives rise to new opportunities and new businesses. Look at IBM when Micro-soft was a wee little business. And now MS is the giant who may be toppled by open source, Linux, and even Google OS - and then Google will perhaps tumble...

      Unless... unless Google becomes "government" - and then things can go very wrong with the typical capitalistic system. Then the giant rotting corpses can be propped up and kept artificially alive, which crushes the smaller, faster companies.

      Think our current administration would say that "Google is too big to fail"? Something to consider.

      -DTM
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    • Profile picture of the author Hasan Barbary
      Originally Posted by David McKee View Post

      Think our current administration would say that "Google is too big to fail"? Something to consider.
      I'm more concerned that the administration would say that "Google is too innovative, too important to the economy" to be a threat to personal privacy.

      Obama is a technophile (as am I), but it's a steep & slippery slope from cautiously appreciative user to blindly uncritical fanboy.

      Until very recently, Google could do no wrong in the eyes of most lawmakers; certainly in the eyes of the mainstream media. Like Apple, they are portrayed as cool, hip, forces of entrepreneurial goodness. In short, their sh*t doesn't stink.

      Don't get me wrong. I make good use of the Google stack each & every day. But as they become more & more vertically integrated, I become more & more concerned about NOT uploading my entire life into the Cloud.

      The whole notion that individuals & small businesses should voluntarily give their crown jewels to somebody else's server for "safekeeping" just boggles my mind.

      "What's that, you say? You PROMISE to keep my most personal info safe & secure?"

      Sounds more like the 3rd Biggest Lie in the World to me, right after "The check's in the mail", and "I promise to pull out."

      Promises, promises...
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      • Profile picture of the author Marakatapolis
        Originally Posted by Hasan Barbary View Post

        I'm more concerned that the administration would say that "Google is too innovative, too important to the economy" to be a threat to personal privacy.

        Obama is a technophile (as am I), but it's a steep & slippery slope from cautiously appreciative user to blindly uncritical fanboy.

        Until very recently, Google could do no wrong in the eyes of most lawmakers; certainly in the eyes of the mainstream media. Like Apple, they are portrayed as cool, hip, forces of entrepreneurial goodness. In short, their sh*t doesn't stink.

        Don't get me wrong. I make good use of the Google stack each & every day. But as they become more & more vertically integrated, I become more & more concerned about NOT uploading my entire life into the Cloud.

        The whole notion that individuals & small businesses should voluntarily give their crown jewels to somebody else's server for "safekeeping" just boggles my mind.

        "What's that, you say? You PROMISE to keep my most personal info safe & secure?"

        Sounds more like the 3rd Biggest Lie in the World to me, right after "The check's in the mail", and "I promise to pull out."

        Promises, promises...
        Isn't Google getting sued in France or something?
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  • Profile picture of the author Jeremy Aragon
    Originally Posted by David McKee View Post

    I was studying a recent patent by Google entitled: "Determining Query Term Synonyms with Query Context." (you can read it here).

    Now I don not consider Google Evil (well, not too evil yet), but if you have read David Kupelian's Book "How Evil Works" you can see how what I discuss below has major impacts for all of us in the Internet Marketing world, and in the world at large.

    For those of you with a programming or linguistic bent, this should set off a few bells as you should be able to see some of the implications here. Basically Google is pursuing (and has been pursuing for some time) something called "Natural Language Processing" or "NLP". For a comprehensive list of free and payfor libraries and programs on NLP go here: (LingPipe). This latest patent gives Google the ability to correctly understand the context of your search in a similar manner to the way you or I understand conversation. We glean the users meaning of a word by the context provided by the other words used. For example when we say "hot dog" we know the speaker is not talking about boiling a puppy...unless the words were used in the context of a joke. Google is beginning to understand these subtle differences.

    But what is a bit disturbing is this quote directly from the patent itself:

    Note the bold section... User identity and session. That means your collective searches and other identifying information indexed by your IP address in case your not sure... This is that privacy thing creeping in, and now officially admitted to in a patent by the company. Frankly, while contextual search is a really cool thing, I really do not want them collecting this deep kind of information about me - because now it is getting into my head itself as context is indexed against other information.

    The problem with this sort of thing is that it will eventually allow google to guess accurately about a users intention. Now imagine google working with police or security agencies - pre-crime anyone?

    A more immediate concern of this new form of searching, is of course with regard to our marketing and SEO efforts. Context, semantics, meanings, and intentions can now be gleaned by what your write - but biases for or against your intentions can be added by the search company as well. This could lead to a more subtle form of "censorship" - the company builds in a bias to their semantic contextual search, and your ranking goes down because they don't like you, not because your content is no good.

    Something to start thinking about...

    -DTM
    David,
    I must respectfully disagree with this post for one specific reason. For the past 2 weeks I have been on a "backyard metal casting" frenzy for knowledge. Melting metal, smelting gold and silver along with many other metals is a hobby I am anxious to pursue and google has been my main source for finding the information I am searching for. ALAS there is something that I now despise more than the game itself, WOW tutorials and videos!!!!!!!

    WOW = World of Warcraft and also the decline of my favorite cousins social life .

    I'm an avid facebooker and often use the 'hide' feature for certain friends who feel the urge to update their status every 5 seconds regarding what they're baby just did :p. I'm anxiously awaiting the day google adds that feature!

    I understand where your coming from and why this is a 'BAD' thing but I believe it will ultimately benefit the internet as a whole in the long run. I too am very curious in regards to the future of SEO and would be willing to say we are witnessing the decline now and the emergence of good ole word of mouth via social media.:rolleyes:

    Good post though, thanks for stimulating my mind!
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  • Profile picture of the author George Wright
    Wow,

    Internet marketing is just getting too complicated. I think I'll just drag out my old Ice Cream Truck and serve my other content (Ice Cream) to a hungry market, (Kids and adults alike) No complicated NLP, no key word research, I just set behind the wheel instead of the keyboard and play music and drive in circles playing music or ringing bells. Fun Fun Fun. And I don't even have to worry about charge backs and refunds. (JK I'm hooked on IM)

    George Wright
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  • Profile picture of the author Marakatapolis
    I don't make any articles or web pages that contain nonsense or irrelevant to the keywords, so I'm not concerned about it.

    Wouldn't the search engine understanding the searchers context, mean the traffic would be even MORE targeted? This seems like a good thing to me, isn't it? Unless I completely missed the point?
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  • Profile picture of the author DamianLeon
    Forget about Google- Build a large list by giving away high quality free Gifts all over the Internet, then upsell in the back end as the relationship is built. If you notice from the Adwords Keyword tool the monthly global searches for most search terms even popular ones is dwarfed by the level of traffic you can send with a large list. Then when Google changes the rules, you can also loose any progress you made- so Go with warming up your traffic, and building your audience and influence, with quality interactions with a proper list- Hope that helped!
    Damian
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  • Profile picture of the author PaulaC
    My biggest beef about Google (and a lot of search engines actually) is their ability to make assumptions about me. If I type in google .com, that's what I want. I don't want to be redirected to google .com .au just because I live in Australia.
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  • Profile picture of the author MichaelHiles
    Google can't patent sunshine or my garden.

    Patents expire.
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  • Profile picture of the author mikemac1
    For the Google haters...here's the video for you...

    THE BEAST FILE: GOOGLE ('HUNGRY BEAST', ABC TV) on Vimeo
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  • Profile picture of the author pks1967
    When google first started out, most people liked them because they were the underdog. It seems to me, as soon as they went public on the stock exchange they turned into "200 billion dollar big shots". People used to like hating Microsoft, now I think google is replacing them as the evil empire people love to hate.


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  • Profile picture of the author Tomwood
    There seems to be two separate parts to this thread.

    one paranoid people who seem to be worried about Google collecting information about them and while we need some degree of paranoid in society to keep certain entities in check this is not something I will be spending to much time worrying about.

    Governments companies and other associations have always kept information on people and this can be interpreted in various ways depending on where you are standing.

    Almost 1000 years ago here in England we had the doomsday book. I am sure the average Saxon peasant saw this as a evil thing as it was designed to make tax collection more efficient

    Whereas the King and his Barons saw it as a good thing for exactly the same reason it made tax collection more efficient .

    Today the doomsday book is a very valuable source of about the eleventh century England.

    So this data collection is going to continue and some will be used for good and some for evil and which is which will be a matter of perception.

    I would also like to point out without data collection we internet marketers wouldn't be here.

    The second theme to the tread is how Google new move towards contextual affects are marketing efforts and the quality of the internet in general.

    My personal opinion is this is a good think which can only improve the quality of information on the net .

    I belief as marketer we are going to have to start looking at words in context a lot more than just individual keyword or keyword phrases.
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