Google search in Dutch brings up different results than search in French
Share article:
Share article:

Google search in Dutch brings up different results than search in French

© Philippe de Gobert/Visit Flanders

Search results provided by internet search giant Google are different depending on whether you search in French or in Dutch, according to research by a doctoral student from the Free University of Brussels (VUB).

Researcher Annelien Smets carried out a Google search for restaurants, hotels and cultural events, searching in both French and Dutch. The results, she found, differed widely according to the language used. For restaurants, for example, Dutch speakers were recommended mainly addresses in the centre of town, while French speakers received recommendations spread more evenly across the 19 communes.

The suggestions differed in about 70% of cases for restaurants as well as hotels and cultural events,” she told Bruzz. “That’s a huge contrast.”

The reason for the difference clearly lies in the algorithm used by Google to decide which results of offer to any given searcher. However the details are unknown: Google, like most internet companies, refuses to divulge the details of its algorithm, which is essentially the driving force of its entire business. Companies and consultants across the world spend their entire working lives trying to figure out the algorithm, which would give the key to making sure internet users were reliably presented with any company’s products.

Researchers worldwide are trying to figure out the basis on which Google personalises [its results],” Smets said. “It could for example be the language in which reviews are written, or maybe Google has the idea that Dutch speakers tend to be concentrated in the centre and are less present elsewhere. Google has a profile for everyone. If you use Google Maps, Google’s search engine knows about it, and links that to previous information it has about you.”

Smets and her team went to some lengths to make their searches as anonymous as possible, by wiping out internet history after every search and using an anonymous account for the search. Trying the experiment for yourself is not simple, since Google pays attention not only to your language preference but also to your search history (unless you sign out) and your location. So the experiment carried out by The Brussels Times for this article does not replicate the conditions of the research, but it does give an indication.

For the search “restaurants bruxelles” with language preference set to French, the results returned included mainly compilations made by others writing in French, so the bias is not with Google. The first page of results consisted of recommendations from TripAdvisor, Gault & Millau, and, as well as a page of recommendations from bloggers in French. returns on the page for “restaurants brussel” with language set to Dutch, simply because the Belgian edition of the magazine has two versions. There, too, are recommendations from TripAdvisor, and contrary to what the research suggests, both sets of recommendations are identical.

Clearly a quick test like this is not a contradiction of properly conducted research, but it does suggest there is a simple way to escape the language bubble the Google algorithm appears to want to lock us into: simply switch your language preference for the occasion, and switch it back again later. That may not disable Google’s secret algorithm, but it will provide a different set of sources – Knack as opposed to La Libre, for example. The solution to the problem of being served up different information is just more information.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

Latest news

EU decides to activate emergency brake against new COVID-variant but stops short of flight ban
The new COVID variant detected in South Africa has put the EU on alert and prompted the Council’s Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR) to ...
Belgium imposes entry ban on travellers from southern Africa
Belgium is introducing an entry ban for travellers from several countries in the south of Africa following concerns about a new variant (B.1.1.529) ...
Cheat Sheet: New Rules, Quiet December Nights
It's been a while since we've had measures complicated enough to deserve a cheat sheet, but less than a week after Belgium rolled out new measures, ...
Belgium records highest number of new cases since start of pandemic
An average of 16,762 infections per day is now recorded in Belgium, with an absolute record of more than 25,000 infections in one day last Monday, ...
Brexit: trade and travel disrupted as French fishermen blockade ports and Eurotunnel
On Friday, the national committee for the French fishing industry has coordinated a blockade of three French ports as well as lorries bearing freight ...
Belgium implements ‘package of strict measures’
Not even a week after the previous measures came into force, Belgium is taking stricter measures to stop the fourth wave in the country, announced ...
Even with strong action now, ‘we will still have a few weeks of misery,’ says Vlieghe
Even if the Consultative Committee takes powerful and clear decisions today, Belgium will still have to endure a few weeks of misery while the number ...
Brussels tunnels blocked by Uber driver protest
Several tunnels in the centre of Brussels were blocked on Friday morning by Uber drivers protesting against a ruling by the Brussels Court of Appeal ...
Police strikes at Brussels and Charleroi airports cause delays
Police unions are taking action at Brussels and Charleroi airports this Friday morning, causing delayed services at both locations. At 7:00 AM at ...
Black Friday not your bag? Try Green Friday
Today is Black Friday: a North American custom that has made its way across the Atlantic and is when retailers aim to draw consumers in with low ...
Study links social media use with depression in adults
While social media has been linked to anxiety and depression in teens, a new study now suggests that adults are also susceptible. In Belgium, a ...
Nearly half a million of lives saved by COVID-19 vaccination in Europe, new study shows
A new study published on Thursday estimates that at least 470,000 lives have been saved among those aged 60 years and over since the start of ...