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Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Google search results for the same term vary widely from user to user, a new study from a competitor finds.

Why it matters: There’s growing interest in how Google and other large web platforms filter content. Conservatives have offered unproven allegations of bias against the right, but observers of all stripes worry that platforms can narrow users’ view of the world, rather than expand them.

Details: The privacy-oriented rival search engine DuckDuckGo had a group of volunteers search for the same terms — “gun control,” “immigration” and “vaccinations” — at the same time.

  • Different users got different links. The company said in a report that some “people were shown a very unusual set of results relative to the other participants, offered some domains seen by no one else. If you were one of these people, you would have no way of knowing what you're missing.”
  • The order of the results varied, with 76 people getting a total of 73 different sets of search results for “vaccinations” in both private and non-private browsing modes.

The company eliminated variations that could have occurred as a result of the search users’ location or, because the users made their queries at the same time, when they made the searches.

The big picture: Google has long touted personalized search results as a user benefit. But nearly a decade ago critics began noting that filtered search results can end up isolating users from information that doesn't match their world views in what Eli Pariser dubbed "filter bubbles."

What they're saying: "Google has claimed to have taken steps to reduce its filter bubble problem, but our latest research reveals a very different story," DuckDuckGo said in its report.

The other side: Google says it is working to improve the quality of its results, including in the boxes of featured content that appear at the top of search results.

  • Google said in an email that instances of personalization in search are infrequent and most common when it comes to clarifying a vague search. It also said that differences in search results can occur thanks to many factors other than direct personalization for a user.

Go deeper

Venezuela suspends talks with opposition after Maduro ally extradited to U.S.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, in June. Photo: Gaby Oraa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key ally of Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro was extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. Saturday to face money laundering charges in Florida, Bloomberg first reported.

Why it matters: Venezuela's government called off negotiations with opposition officials that were scheduled for Sunday in Mexico in response to the extradition of Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman and financial fixer for Maduro.

4 hours ago - Health

5 times as many police officers have died from COVID as from guns since pandemic began

Photo: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

COVID-19 is the leading cause of death for police officers even though members of law enforcement were among the first to be eligible to receive the vaccine, CNN reports, citing data from the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Why it matters: Nearly 476 police officers have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic started, compared to the 93 deaths as a result of gunfire in the same time period, according to ODMP and CNN.

Virginia energy giant quietly boosts McAuliffe

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks during a campaign rally on Oct. 15 in Henrico, Virginia. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe has sworn off money from the Richmond company Dominion Energy. But the utility has found more subtle ways to back McAuliffe's gubernatorial bid, records show.

Driving the news: Dominion's political action committee has donated $200,000 to a murky political group called Accountability Virginia PAC, a group with ties to prominent Democrats that's been running ads attacking Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin from the right.