Google Stops Labeling Personalized Search Results

    July 31, 2013
    Chris Crum

It appears that at some point, Google stopped labeling personalized search results based on its “Search Plus Your World” feature.

Are you still seeing personal results labeled as such? Have you noticed the disappearance? Let us know in the comments.

Google launched Search Plus Your World back in January of 2012. The reaction from users was mixed.You can toggle the feature on and off with these buttons:

Search Plus Your World toggle

In the past, since launching the feature, Google has shown the little person icon next to the results that were included as a result of it – the personalized results that others don’t see. Now, Google is not showing these icons to indicate personalization on these results.

You can see in the video how they were labeled:

Here’s Google’s page about the Search Plus Your World feature as it currently stands on the company’s Inside Search site. You can see the icons in the example images.

Search Plus Your World

Now, no icons.

Here’s an example of a generic search for “game” with personalization turned on. I’ve highlighted the obviously personalized results, which are based on Google+ connections.

Game personalization on

Here’s the same search with personalization turned off:

Game - personalization off

It’s also worth noting that Google is showing me a Google Play link with personalization turned on (at the bottom), which doesn’t appear with it turned off. Perhaps this is because I have an Android device. Also, Google is showing an ad the top on the non-personalized results that isn’t present on the personalized results.

As seen in the video, the mouseover text for the personalization icon at the top used to say, “Show personal results.” Now, the text says, “Show all results,” when it’s turned off, and “Currently showing private results” when it’s turned on.

I’m not sure how long ago Google stopped showing the icons. I don’t know if I’m the first to point this out or not. I didn’t see any mentions of it, but please feel free to let us know if you’ve noticed this in the past. If this isn’t news, and I somehow missed it when it was, I apologize, but searching Google is giving me no indication that it’s been a topic of discussion, so if that’s the case, perhaps Google burying this is a story in and of itself.

It’s unclear at this point if Google has stopped labeling these results for all users, or if it is just testing the lack of labels, but I had multiple people test it, and none of them were seeing the labels. We’ve reached out to Google for comment, and they don’t appear to be interested in responding. We’ll update if that changes.

For Google, which often talks about being more transparent, this seems like a bit of a reduction in transparency. Kind of like when they decided to stop putting out those monthly lists of algorithm changes or “search quality highlights” a while back without saying anything about it.

A Pew report from March of last year found that 65% of those polled view personalized search as bad, and 73% saw it as a violation of privacy. That sounds like the kind of thing that people would want to continue to see clearly labeled at least.

Do you think Google should be labeling personalized results? Does it matter? Let us know what you think in the comments.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.