The feed has been built as Google redevelops its services with the majority of searches now coming from mobile users. The extraordinary popularity of mobile devices among Google’s services prompted the company to launch its Pixel phone last year. Shortly after introducing the Pixel, Google first introduced its feed and since then it has been using machine learning to train the algorithms behind feed to understand and predict what individuals find interesting and important. Machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence, requires a lot of data to train algorithms to address individual-level peculiarities and interests. As Google’s vice president of engineering, Shashi Thakur, wrote: The more you use Google, the better your feed will be. Of course, just as Google is able to tailor news articles to users’ tastes, it will also be able to target advertising to them as well – which is where 87%, or more than £18.9bn ($24.7bn) of its revenue came from in the first three months of 2017. While the feed isn’t a shift in business model for the web giant, it does signal a turning point in how the largest web giants are continuing to compete for users’ attention.
Google’s technology had previously been developed to allow users to specify the material they were looking for, now it is telling people what they want. As Google begins to curate the material it is showing to users, it will continue to attract attention from competition authorities – which earlier this year fined the company £2.1bn (€2.42bn) for abusing its dominance.
Social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter have received similar criticism for the way they allow “fake news” stories to spread. Responding to this criticism, Google announced that the material in users’ feeds will also provide more context than before.It will offer different views on the same stories by including different sources – and also allow users to fact check the topics in their feed too, at least when facts are available.