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Project Owl

Project Owl is an endeavor by Google to try to reduce the amount of fake news and hate speech from showing in its search results. The effort is supported primarily through user feedback with changes to a few of its search capabilities.

The significant change is to Google’s Autocomplete search suggestions. This is when a user begins to type in the search bar and Google suggests topics to search on. It was designed to speed up searching and came from the most popular searches. However, since suggestions come from real user searches, there can be some distasteful suggestions that are related to the topic the user was initially interested in. For example, if a user started typing “Did the holocaust…”, Google often suggested “Did the holocaust really happen?” as a possible search.

With Project Owl, Google has made a change to their search bar by including a new “Report inappropriate predictions” link that appears at the bottom of the search box. Users can click the link and fill out a form detailing issues with search predictions. There are clearly labeled categories so users can directly flag content they find unhelpful, hateful, racist, offensive, vulgar, dangerous, misleading, inaccurate or more. Users can also leave comments or suggestions. Users are also able to provide feedback on Featured Snippets, which is a summary of information relevant to the user’s search at the top of their search results.

Under Project Owl, Google has also adjusted its ranking signals and updated its Search Quality Rater guidelines so its evaluators, who assess the quality of Google’s Search results, have better standards for knowing which low-quality webpages to flag or why suggestions might need to be removed.

Lastly, Project Owl signals a move by Google to provide more transparency about its products. They have published their new policies to their Help Center webpage and have provided a How Search Works site to provide more information about the technology behind their search function.

This was last updated in May 2017

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