Leaving Opinions Out: A look behind the scenes at Google

In the Business Insider article, Here’s How to Figure Out Everything Google Knows About You , the author, Julie Bort, walks the audience through Google’s information gathering process. Julie explains how Google takes an individual’s information, based on location or your most recent internet searches, to customize the ads that are presented. She then goes on to show the audience their own Google account settings to demonstrate how to find the data Google has collected.

What I liked about this article was that the author kept her explicit opinion out of the piece. Therefore, I’m interested to hear how you were left feeling as a a reader, after reading the article? Did you feel you the author left space for you to form your own opinion on the topic? Also, do you think the role of the reporter is to present information, raise questions, or just give the facts without trying to lead the audience in a specific direction?

This then leads me to the question, what is the reporters role in presenting information in a non-biased way? What is the best way to keep personal opinions aside? And ultimately, when is it your place to give an opinion, if ever?




12 Responses to “Leaving Opinions Out: A look behind the scenes at Google”

  1. Because this article covers such a controversial topic, I agree that the author was correct to omit her opinion. That said, I do think she could have done a better job incorporating other opinions. She mostly just covered the basic mechanics of Google’s advertising methods, however she did not include many quotes from people who are either opposed or pro this type of information gathering and utilization. Interviewing people who are concerned about their privacy would have been key to include. Even in terms of the mechanical side of the issue, which she does cover well using specific examples, I think she could have elaborated more on the specific processes used.

    In terms of journalists’ opinions in general, I think that journalists should always try to keep their opinions out unless they are writing an opinion piece. Along these lines, I think all news sources should make an effort to incorporate opinion pieces. For pieces that are not explicitly opinion, though, I think that when journalists allow their opinions to have a presence, it can cloud over or cover up the other angles they are trying to cover, which does not lead to fair coverage. Because it is essential that journalism be fair and objective, I think there is a place for the journalists’ opinion, but not in a standard news feature.

  2. I knew that Google knows all about where we live, our phone numbers, our email addresses, and so on, but I never realized they track our searches until products I was online shopping for kept appearing on my Facebook. This creepy feeling made me realize that nothing I search is a secret. What I did not realize until reading this article is that Google profits off our searches. It is interesting that companies are willing to pay more to ensure their product is advertised to the right people, and it’s pretty crazy that Google has the technology to do this.

    As a reader, I agree this was a well-written piece with as little bias as possible. It almost read as more of a newsletter. The piece definitely makes it possible to form your own opinions. I do think the piece would be newsier if it had quotes from Google executives, advertisers, and consumers. Regardless, the story is informative and really makes readers think about the Internet.

    Personally, I do not think it is every appropriate to knowingly incorporate bias into a news piece, since their ultimate goal should be to inform people on a topic. Opinions should be left for the op-ed, editorial, or opinion section of the newspaper (even if it’s online).

  3. I think it was a good move to leave her personal opinion out of the piece. I think, for the most part, a reporter should only report the news, and never actually include his or her opinion. I think the most important thing a reporter can do to voice how they feel in a piece is to capture the piece in a way that shows why someone could gather an opinion that the reporter feels. In this piece, it seemed more how-to and practical than many other articles we have read for our blog posts. I think for the most part, the reporter needs to report, and if he or she has an opinion, it’s best for the op-ed section, or that person should be a full-time opinionated figure (bill o’reilly, john Oliver)

  4. Hi Caitlin. Thanks for sharing this article – I thought that it was really interesting! I think that the writer did a good job of keeping her opinions out of the piece. She did not judge whether the way that Google targets ads is invasive or just good business. I like that she explained to her audience how they can discover what Google knows about them, allowing them to form their own opinion on the subject. Seeing how much Google knew about me and my interests definitely impacts how I view my privacy on the internet, so I appreciated that the article outlines the complicated process to find this out.
    Overall, I feel that the role of the reporter is to present information and raise relevant questions so that the reader can form his or her own opinion on an issue, and this reporter did so effectively. There is a place for opinions in reporting, but it needs to be appropriate. If I, a reader, disagree with the author’s opinion, I do not want to feel attacked. The reporter can include his or her own viewpoint by choosing to include or exclude different sources, statistics, or quotes. It is definitely possible to include an opinion without being too explicit, and if this is done well the piece can be very compelling. It can be difficult to keep one’s opinion out of an article, but doing so prevents alienating readers and encourages them to learn more about the topic at hand.

  5. Caitlin:
    I’m pleased that you selected an article so relevant to this week’s class. The Google in Ann Arbor focuses on advertising, so this is perfect! The format of this piece veered from the traditional news story. I would view it more as an informational piece, presenting news in a unique and creative format. I would agree with the other commenters that it makes sense to keep your opinion out of a news article whenever possible, though these days there is a fine and blurring line between news and commentary. Part of what we do in this class is to train you to be consumers of news, so you’re more aware of when a piece is commentary and opinion vs. straight news. There’s a role for both, of course, but we want the news stories you create to be as objective as possible.

  6. While reading this article, I was left with curiosity about what Google could know about me too. So I followed all the directions, and I discovered that Google knows nothing about me! After this experience, I think the way the author wrote is in a manner that what she is saying is fact. It is not very obvious opinion, but I think it kind of is at the same time. I don’t think there is ever a place for a reporter to give an opinion unless it is a piece specifically in the opinion section.

  7. I agree with the rest of the crowd in regards to the importance of her leaving her opinion out of the piece. Also, I think it was a fun informational piece for how short it was and how it gave you visuals to literally illustrate to you how to check what it knows about you and how to stop them from selling it.

    I think for most people it seems alarming that they can trace your searches and know such a great deal about you, but we can only hope the information is being used in a sales way only. It reminds me of the on-going fight between Apple and the government to see if they should unlock the phone or not because I think this could be another way for the government to overreach their bounds.

    As for the role of a journalist, I agree that objectivity and reporting should be two of the main goals, but I think many people did not mention their role as people to ask questions. If they are not starting these debates of what is good and not good with their stories, who can be expected to? With that in mind, they should try to simply ask the questions and not shed their own light on them if possible. Harder and harder to separate the two these days it seems.

  8. While the author made a great attempt at presenting the information from a neutral approach, this is nearly impossible to do on such a controversial topic. For example, even the first paragraph is biased. The language throughout the article quietly attacks Google. A representative from Google likely would argue against describing the role of the user in such a way. On topics like these, there isn’t much middle ground at all, either you believe that Google has the right to use this information, or you don’t. So there’s no neutral standpoint to present. Instead, you need to present information from both sides, and allow the reader to pick a side. In this case, you could present the viewpoint of Google or an advertising agency, and the viewpoint of a consumer. This article tends to lack the point of Google which might argue that they’re trying to provide users with the best internet experience possible by catering to their interests, and so on. Another useful tool is to present questions, which this article did in some areas. Raising questions allows the reader to poke holes in each side of the argument and form their own opinion, as long as questions are raised for both sides of the argument.

  9. giancarlobuonomo Reply March 15, 2016 at 8:46 pm

    Forgive me if I sound a bit crotchety here, but I feel like articles, like this one, that are written with such thorough “objectivity” are often the most biased ones. The author omits her personal opinion, yes, but her descriptions of Google’s information-gathering process, and your own ability to see how they’ve profiled you, ends up being infomercial-like. In other words, one emerges from this knowing more about a potentially controversial practice Google, but not having any resources or views that allow you to engage with the controversy. So in response to Caitilin’s question, about whether the role of a reporter is “to present information, raise questions, or just give the facts without trying to lead the audience in a specific direction,” I think there’s a fine line between presenting facts without opinions, and presenting facts without challenge.

  10. My take on this article is much more akin to the last two comments from Giancarlo and Chris. I was surprised when I read that so many people thought that this reporter left her opinions out. It’s a subtle approach, but to me it feels like she is pointing out the alarming facts of a controversial topic, once you’re worried about it, she then proceeds to tell you how to take care of the issue. I can’t imagine that showing someone how to stop a process like this when you don’t think it is something they need to be concerned about would have any relevance. As far as I am concerned, facts are not pure and unbiased. The facts that are chosen and the way they are presented have so much to do with the way someone will shape their understanding of a topic, and in this case I believe she is using them with intention.

  11. In this particular article I believe there is a difference between what some have labeled “opinion” versus what should actually be identified as “voice.” Too often we feel the need to critique and find hidden agendas of writers to prove a point. In instances such as the one given above, the author is merely writing an informative piece to enlighten readers, such as myself, who had no prior knowledge of “personal information gathering” being done by Google. Although I agree that this piece was most obviously emphasizing the fact that Google has access to all of our personal information, and thus could be taken as “opinionated,” this was merely being done to be transparent about the issue and to do so with an intriguing voice. What has been considered by some to be “opinion” is rather a technique used by the author to write an informative article that sounds edgy to the reader in order to show the importance of the issue at hand while capturing the reader’s attention.

  12. While I agree that the article was very informative in a clear, concise way, I don’t think I would have minded the author asking a few questions to get the reader thinking about how they feel about Google/technology innovations and targeted advertising based on provided algorithms.

    I think asking questions would help the reader interpret these topics better in perspective of his/her own lifestyle. I don’t think doing this would lead the audience in a specific direction, but guide them to understand the actions of Google more and how it affects personal everyday life.

    I don’t think that reporters should include their own opinions all the time – this was a very healthy article in providing clear facts about what Google is doing with people’s searches and activity online.

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