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Google Autocomplete Isn’t the Same in Every Country

Chronicling the ways google autocompletes your searches can be both enlightening and horrifying. But the words it fills in for you aren’t the same in every country

smithsonian.com

Google knows a lot about you. It knows where you live, what you email your friends about, and what you really want when you start typing into their search box. In fact, chronicling the ways Google autocompletes your searches can be both enlightening and horrifying. But the words the search engine predicts you’ll want aren’t the same in every country.

Computer scientists who don’t work at Google find this quite interesting, so two of them build a little application that can show you what you might see in that little search bar in various countries. According to New Scientist:

The system is called Zeitgeist Borders. It lets anyone collect and analyse autocompletion suggestions from around the world for a certain phrase, pushing searches through all of the different top-level domains that Google runs, such as google.fr in France. The results are displayed on a world map, with the most popular words to complete a search term displayed for each country – though it works in English only.

The project was open to the public but had to close down, because Google has a limit to how many queries you can make of its data per day. But the researchers did publish a paper on the project and their code.

In their paper, they note some interesting trends. If you type “how to” in the Southern part of the world Google suggests “how to kiss.” If you type “how to” in the North, you get “how to tie a tie.” In most places in the world if you ask “why kids” Google supplies “are the worst.” But in India it thinks you want to know “why kids vomit” or “why kids don’t eat.”

This whole project was inspired by a French article that uncovered the trend of French people searching for whether or not celebrities were Jewish or not, based on what Google tended to autocomplete based on the number of similar searches. When they read that, the computer scientists realized that the output of these Google algorithms could tell people a lot about cultural differences just based on what people search.

Here is a map of just one of those trends, highlighting the countries where the autocomplete happens most:

So while many think of the internet as a global platform, computer scientists can still use it to tease apart key geographic differences in what people want to know.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Inside Google’s Top Secret Data Centers
How Google Keeps Your Spam Out of Your Inbox

About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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