Google’s search changes not all that dramatic

Molly Wood Mar 16, 2012

You may have heard already that Google is taking a new approach to the way its search engine works, moving away from keyword-based searching to something a little more contextual. The change was the subject of a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, which said, “The changes to search are among the biggest in the company’s history and could affect millions of websites that rely on Google’s current page-ranking results. At the same time, they could give Google more ways to serve up advertisements.”

Strong stuff. It describes how Google is embracing something called semantic search, which looks for the meaning of words rather than just the occurrence of those words. So if you search on “Lake Tahoe,” you’d get information about the lake and not just websites where the words “Lake Tahoe” appear.

We reached out to Danny Sullivan for extra clarification on what this all means. He’s the editor of the website Search Engine Land and he’s been following Google and search engines in general extremely closely for many years. He says this was one of many tweaks Google has made but it’s not all that dramatic. “Google started doing what was called synonym search in 2003, where they would understand that one word that you search for might match other words that are conceptually related to it,” says Sullivan. “And in fact, if you do searches on Google today, if you look closely at the words that get bolded, you’ll notice a lot of them are bolded that aren’t actually words you typed into the search box, and that’s an example of them going beyond exactly what you entered, and finding things that seem to be related to that topic.”

Synonym search, semantic search, Sullivan says all kinds of tweaks are working their way in all the time. Gradually. No need to panic. 


More about Google but a very different kind of story. The FBI is asking Google to hack into an Android phone. Dante Dears of San Diego served time in prison for being a pimp. He was released on parole and police believed he then resumed his old profession. They spotted him using an Android smart phone. Cops got a warrant to look at what was on the phone but couldn’t unlock it and Dears refused to help. Privacy researcher Chris Soghoian tells us what happened next.

“The FBI handed the device over to their squad of technical experts and after a few failed attempts to unlock the screen, the phone further locked itself, thus, not only requiring the correct screen unlock, but also now wanting the Gmail username and password,” says Chris Soghoian, a privacy researcher who has been following the case and brought it to the public’s attention.

So this one guy had managed to stump the FBI, which then obtained a warrant asking Google to break into the phone on behalf of law enforcement. “Unlike with your own computer,” Soghoian says, “where you’re the only one that has the password, in this case, because Google provides the operating system, they are in a position to provide the unlock sequence for the phone.”

Now, Google must decide its next move, legally speaking. “All U.S. technology companies that provide services to the public at one point or another are forced to hand over their customers’ data to the government. This is routine. Sprint has over 110 employees providing nothing but surveillance assistance. Facebook has 25 employees. But companies have some degree of flexibility with regard to the technologies they build into their products that protect consumers, and they also have some flexibility in their interpretation of the law.”


Also on today’s program, another installment of the award-winning** Tech Report Theater. Two new products are hitting the store shelves this week. The new iPad debuts today, the new Scooba 390 robot vacuum cleaner debuted yesterday. Given that they cost exactly the same, which one would you pick?

**this segment has never won any awards. 

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