Effective and Safe Online Searching – Part 1

by Patrick Siebold

Most of us don’t think twice about pulling out our devices to ‘Google’ a recipe or find a book review. Indeed, we have come to rely on our devices and the internet to be able to find information instantly. In this age of disinformation and misinformation, it is remarkable that more emphasis has not been placed on doing this effectively and safely.

Most of us, myself included, don’t pay much attention to how and where we search for something online. We often just use the easiest default search engine on whatever device or computer we are using, but it is important to remember that not all search engines are created equally. Most search engines store a history of your online activity and will give you personalized or filtered search results based on what the search engine thinks you want. This means that two people sitting right next to each other might get completely different search results for the exact same search. While this might actually help shorten your search time if you are looking for a pair of jeans on Amazon, what if you are searching for news or current events? Or doing research for a course? Or looking for legal or medical information?

To get around this it is good practice to try multiple search engines and compare the results. Or better yet, there are some search engines out there, like DuckDuckGo, that emphasizes protecting searchers’ privacy and avoiding the filter bubble of personalized search results. Most importantly, they show all users the same search results for a given search term.

Also, while search engines are a great source of instant information, think movie reviews, if you are doing any kind of research, and by this, I loosely mean anything from looking for new dishwasher ratings to researching the Long term effects of soluble endoglin and mild hypercholesterolemia in mice hearts and everything in between, it is far better to search somewhere with results you can trust, like in a library’s subscription database! As one of my instructors once drilled into me, Google is a great place to start a search, but not a great place to end a search (more on this next time!).

Note: If you happen to be shopping around for a new dishwasher or have an interest in mice hearts I have provided links to articles in two of our very excellent subscription databases: Consumer Reports and Academic Search Elite (Library Number Required).