5.10. Impacts of CS Web Searches

Time Estimate: 135 minutes

5.10.1. Introduction and Goals

Learning Objectives: I will learn to
  • describe the algorithm Google uses to return search results
  • identify factors that affect web searches
  • describe how web search results may not be trustworthy
Language Objectives: I will be able to
  • describe risks to privacy from collecting and storing personal data on a computer system
  • discuss positive and negative impacts of how search trends are used to predict information
  • use target vocabulary, such as search, trend, and captcha while describing web searches, with the support of concept definitions and vocabulary notes from this lesson

5.10.2. Learning Activities

Chapter 4: Needles in the Haystack — Google and Other Brokers in the Bits Bazaar

This chapter describes web searches and how searching is done. It focuses on Google and how the Google phenomenon has evolved and changed our lives. Some of the topics covered in the reading include how Google searches work, caching, the PageRank algorithm, bias in searches, and search trends.

Activity: K-W-L Chart

Before reading the chapter, consider the following questions and complete the Know and Want columns of the K-W-L chart. Share and discuss your responses with your classmates.

  • What do you notice about your own internet searches?
  • What search engines have you tried?
  • Does Google predict your searches?
  • If you use another search engine besides Google, do you get the same results?
  • Which search engine is "right"? Which is "better"?

Then watch the video below on the evolution of search and read the following sections of Chapter 4 of Blown to Bits and this page on Human Computation and Captchas. As you watch and read, complete the Learned column of your K-W-L chart.

  • Found After Seventy Years, pg. 109-110
  • It Matters How It Works, pg. 120-138
  • Search is Power, pg. 145-151 (up to the heading Search Engines Don't See Everything)

Activity: Google Trends

Google Trends (trends.google.com) provides charts that show how often a particular term is searched across the world. Take a look at the chart below. What do the horizontal and vertical axis represent? Why do you think there is a large peak at one time of the year and a low point at another? Hint: Look carefully at the dates.

Read this article from Wired magazine, "What We Can Learn From the Epic Failure of Google Flu Trends". As you read, think about why the flu trends failed, including any assumptions about their data or their model.

5.10.3. Summary

In this lesson, you learned how to:

5.10.4. Still Curious?

Captchas were briefly mentioned on pg. 148 as one way of harnessing the power of many users. Read more about them at captcha.net. What might be some of the problems with captchas for users with vision impairments? Do reCaptchas solve that problem?

Search algorithms are not the only ones where bias may appear. Other algorithms, such as those used for facial recognition, may demonstrate the unconscious biases of those writing the algorithms. Learn more by watching Joy Buolamwini's TED Talk on how she is fighting bias in algorithms.

5.10.5. Reflection: For Your Portfolio

Answer the following portfolio reflection questions as directed by your instructor. Questions are also available in this Google Doc where you may use File/Make a Copy to make your own editable copy.

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