Against a Personalisation of the Self

Renée Ridgway

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With presently more than 3 billion search queries a day, Google is the most used search engine in the world. Since December 4, 2009 Google uses ‘personalisation’ where it captures users’ data, logs users’ histories and adapts previous search queries into real-time search results, even if one is not signed into a Google account. In exchange for data, users acquire ‘tailored’ advertising, turning themselves into commodities for advertisers and receiving free services. In order to gain a greater understanding of the complexities involved with data retention of online searching habits, I designed my own ‘empirical’ study in an attempt to circumvent personalisation and to determine whether one could be anonymous when searching online, and if so, how. In a critical and experimental (auto)
ethnography of the self using specific keywords, I investigated if the ‘anonymous’ browser Tor (The Onion Browser) offered divergent search results from those of ‘personalised’ Google. The experiment proposes that Tor delivered divergent search results from Google’s personalisation in two ways: the ranking of the results and the returned ‘unique’ URLs. Tor enables a degree of anonymity without exposing the identity of the user (IP address) and delivers ‘relevant’ search results, thereby offering an alternative to Google’s personalisation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEphemera: Theory & politics in organization
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)377-397
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Anonymisation
  • Collectivity
  • TOR network
  • Personalisation
  • Search engines
  • Internet

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