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    On heartfelt discursive uses of Google autocomplete

    There are two recent examples of search autocompletes (search predictions or search suggestions) in Google Search being used to help people think or feel a particular way. I think the claims are unfounded (or at least incomplete), even if effective or well-meaning because (1) search queries are not a perfect predictor of search intent and (2) autocompletes are not a perfect picture of actual searches.


    Google[flights to => flights to israel]

    Screenshot of Google Autocomplete for [flights to =>]

    Google[why do => why does the us support israel]

    Screenshot of Google Autocomplete for [why do =>]

    It was easy to verify the actual autocompletes via searches of my own. Others also verified them on social media.


    While perhaps discursively powerful (and maybe reflective of actual underlying reality), I do not think the claims made from these Google autocompletes or suggested searches are well-grounded. Autocomplete is designed to reduce keystrokes. While it can be used, as Francesca Tripodi (website | Twitter) notes, to add context and texture “to what’s going on in the world” (2022), it is not a comprehensive reflection of searching.

    1. Search queries are not a perfect predictor of search intent

      • i.e. to (try to) purchase flights (a transactional query) or learn about them being cancelled (an informational query)?
      • i.e. to learn more about a topic (in exploratory search) or find a particular YouTube video (a navigational query or Known-item search)?
    2. Autocompletes are not a perfect picture of actual searches

    Note: Some autocompletes rely more or less on localization. You can explore this by changing your location through a VPN, (as suggested down-thread in the first tweet), or, in Chromium browsers, through developer tools: Documentation > Chrome DevTools > Sensors: Emulate device sensors > Override geolocation


    Using suggests

    See Ronald Robertson (website | Twitter)’s suggests to explore Google autocompletes programmatically (Robertson et al., 2019).

    >>> import suggests
    >>> s = suggests.get_suggests(‘flights to’, source=‘google’)
    2023-10-10 13:39:09,681 | 35036 | INFO | suggests.logger | google | flights to
    >>> s[‘suggests’]
    [‘flights to israel’, ‘flights to vegas’, ‘flights to hawaii’, ‘flights to tel aviv’, ‘flights to vegas from seattle’, ‘flights to san diego’, ‘flights to miami’, ‘flights to las vegas’, ‘flights to maui’, ‘flights to hawaii from seattle’]
    >>> s = suggests.get_suggests(‘why do’, source=‘google’)
    2023-10-10 13:38:16,401 | 35036 | INFO | suggests.logger | google | why do
    >>> s[‘suggests’]
    [‘why does the us support israel’, ‘why does iran hate israel’, ‘why do dogs eat grass’, ‘why do dogs lick you’, ‘why do i sweat so much’, ‘why does my stomach hurt’, ‘why does egypt blockade gaza’, ‘why do cats knead’, ‘why do cats purr’, ‘why do cats make biscuits’]

    Contemporaneous autocomplete on other search engines

    Bing[why do…]

    • why do israel and palestine fight
    • why do dogs eat grass
    • Why Don’t We (American boy band)
    • why do cats knead
    • why do we yawn
    • why do cats purr
    • why do we dream
    • why does my stomach hurt
    • why does roblox keep crashing
    • why do you want to work here

    Yandex[why do…]

    • why don’t you kiss me like you did it day before
    • why does my heart feel so bad
    • why don’t you love me
    • why do serious
    • why do you think
    • why do you need a unity id
    • why do i fix everything i touch

    Kagi[why do…]

    • why do dogs eat grass
    • why do dogs lick you
    • why do i sweat so much
    • why does my stomach hurt
    • why do cats purr
    • why does iran hate israel
    • why do mosquito bites itch

    Swisscows[why do…]

    • why do israel and palestine fight
    • why do dogs eat grass
    • why don’t we
    • why do cats knead
    • why do we yawn


    Caulfield, M. (2019). Data voids and the google this ploy: Kalergi plan. https://hapgood.us/2019/04/12/data-voids-and-the-google-this-ploy-kalergi-plan/.

    Graham, R. (2023). The ethical dimensions of google autocomplete. Big Data &Amp; Society, 10(1), 205395172311565. https://doi.org/10.1177/20539517231156518

    Robertson, R. E., Jiang, S., Lazer, D., & Wilson, C. (2019). Auditing autocomplete: Suggestion networks and recursive algorithm interrogation. Proceedings of the 10th Acm Conference on Web Science, 235–244. https://doi.org/10.1145/3292522.3326047

    Tripodi, F. (2022). The propagandists’ playbook: How conservative elites manipulate search and threaten democracy (Hardcover, p. 288). Yale University Press. https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300248944/the-propagandists-playbook/