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Google suggests bars and restaurants to Dutch and French speakers depending on their language

15:19 07/08/2019

A PhD student at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) has discovered that Google shows Dutch speakers in the capital different restaurant and bar suggestions than French speakers.

VUB PhD student Annelien Smets reviewed thousands of hotel, restaurant and event recommendations offered by Google Maps using search queries both in Dutch and French.

She discovered that the world’s biggest search engine mostly proposed restaurants in central Brussels to Dutch speakers, while French speakers were shown eateries across all 19 municipalities of the capital. “We found a 70% difference between the French and Dutch search results for the restaurants,” Smets told Knack, describing the discrepancy as “remarkable”.

Like many other tech companies, the US search engine giant has refused to publicly release the algorithms that determine what results users are shown when they enter a search query.

“The study offers a first indication that technology amplifies and reinforces existing bubbles – in this cases the language bubble,” Smets said, referring to the fact that many Dutch speakers tend to frequent different neighbourhoods, bars and restaurants than the capital’s French speakers, and vice versa. “I think we have to ask ourselves the question whether this is something we want. And if not, how we can regulate and manage this?”

Smets’ PhD study – carried out under the umbrella of the VUB’s Imec-SMIT research group – explores how algorithms influence users’ urban experiences.

Photo by Belga / Eric Lalmand

Written by Linda A. Thompson