Brave launched its own search engine in beta today, with user privacy, result ranking transparency, and index autonomy as core tenets. Of particular interest is their paper on community-curated open ranking models, in which they very poignantly describe one of the primary issues with the web today and how they intend to address it with an upcoming feature they’re calling “Goggles”.
The biases of Google and Facebook, whether algorithmic, data induced, commercial or political dictate what version of the world we get to see. Reality becomes what the models we are fed depict it to be. And a reality defined by Google’s search ranking algorithm, is one that does not and cannot capture the intricacies and variety of human knowledge and opinion.
Their approach to tackling this problem is not to make what would be an empty promise to remove bias completely, nor to present results based on what they believe to be the best or most accurate perspective on the world, but rather to move in the opposite direction and “increase the number of options, windows through which reality is made sense of”.
The proposal presented in this paper can be portrayed as a fail-safe to prevent any platform from becoming a single window to the world. If Brave or any other company were to displace Google, the ranking algorithm would still be the one dictating the way the world is perceived. We would have changed actors, but the problem would remain.
In this paper we introduce Goggles, which is meant to provide people with a way to access information according to their explicit biases. In layman’s terms, to put Goggles on, to see a different version of reality.
The rationale is not to customize the ranking according to the implicit interests of the user, but to offer a mechanism to define multiple rankings, plural, open and explicit, for only if it is so, can it be trusted. The benefit for the users is that they would be empowered to explore multiple realities in a straight-forward way. The point is to offer people the freedom to choose their own biases while being conscious of them. The benefit for the content creators is that they have multiple options to expose their content, by increasing their potential audience, which will reduce the need to optimize for the single set of biases implicitly encoded in the search engine’s ranking.
Whether the system ends up being used as they describe or simply leveraged as a way of insulating oneself from other worldviews remains to be seen. In all likelihood there will be a bit of both. But regardless, it’s a creative and power-to-the-people approach to bucking the trend of large companies rising to positions of power and imposing a single perspective on the world. That is a worthy endeavor.