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Probate & Property

March/April 2024

Technology—Property - Algorithms Take Over Search— How to Take Back Control

Seth Rowland


  • What is an algorithm? Strictly defined, an algorithm is a process or set of rules to be followed by a computer in doing calculations or solving problems.
  • If you are using Google Chrome, run it in Guest Mode.
  • Today, lawyers are becoming more dependent on the open internet to carry out factual research needed to build cases, review transactions, or ferret out possible liability traps.
Technology—Property - Algorithms Take Over Search— How to Take Back Control
Maksym Belchenko via Getty Images

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Technology—Property provides information on current technology and microcomputer software of interest in the real property area. The editors of Probate & Property welcome information and suggestions from readers.

In the 2002 film Minority Report, directed by Steven Spielberg, the character played by Tom Cruise enters a futuristic Gap clothing store. He is greeted by a hologram that recognizes him and asks about his satisfaction with his last purchase. This scene showcases the potential of personalized advertising and customer interaction in the future.

On the other hand, the Netflix series Altered Carbon, created by Laeta Kalogridis and based on the 2002 novel by Richard K. Morgan, presents a different perspective on future advertising. In this series, the character portrayed by Chris Conner experiences graphic interactive advertisements projected directly into his mind as he walks down a street. These intrusive ads cease only when a friendly cop tags him with a “broadcast blocker,” illustrating the potential downsides of overly immersive advertising technologies.

Today, the world of internet search is very much like the store scene in Minority Report and the street scene in Altered Carbon. Without broadcast blockers, we cannot safely navigate through the vast collection of information that is available online. Everywhere, algorithms determine what you are shown whether you are searching on Google, YouTube, Instagram, or Facebook. We accept algorithms that make recommendations when we are watching Netflix videos, but do we want them when we are searching for answers on the internet?

Rise of the Algorithms

So, what is an algorithm? Strictly defined, an algorithm is a process or set of rules to be followed by a computer in doing calculations or solving problems. When you initiate a search in Google, an algorithm or process is called to determine what sites or web pages on the internet are likely to contain the answer to your question. Historically this has been done by matching keywords in your search with keywords found on the web page. Based on an algorithm, the pages are ranked and ordered with the most responsive pages at the top.

Over the past decade, Google and content providers have modified algorithms ostensibly to give you what you want by adding in other factors such as information about the user making the request. Your identity, location, and demographics, including race, gender, age, and education, are combined with your perceived bias, prior searches, and prior purchases to determine what you will feel is responsive to your request. Search engine providers charge money to advertisers who wish to get information to particular users, using an auction-based system where advertisers bid on particular classes of users to get their advertisement placed at the highest position. Increasingly, the line between paid advertisement and information has blurred (hence the term “click-bait”). The search engine and content providers have prioritized search to take account of all these factors to anticipate what you are looking for before you even finish typing the question.

Today, it is quite common that two people who run an identical search on Google will get different results. Internet search and content providers curate what information you receive. In my own experience, every video on my YouTube home page addresses politics (that agree with my persuasion), concerns the war in Ukraine (an area of particular interest), or describes advanced cooking techniques (I attended a boot camp at the Culinary Institute of America). Recently, I started doing searches on border collies (my dog Lupin is a border collie), and now every other video on my home page shows a border collie dog doing tricks or herding sheep.

This works if you are seeking to be entertained. If you are a lawyer looking for information that will serve your client’s interest, however, the curation of search results can be problematic. Lawyers need objective search results. Without objectivity, lawyers will be blindsided in their advocacy for their clients. The promise of the internet is an entire world at your fingertips. But if you only see what some algorithm predicts you want to see, you are traveling blind.

There is a need to escape the bubble of your search history. In that spirit, this article will look at some techniques for getting out of the bubble of predictivity. Some are simple, but others require more dedication. The goal is to remove the blinders and be able to see everything. This article does not address the legal-specific search engines such as LexisNexis, Westlaw, Casetext, and Justia. To my knowledge, these search platforms do not take into account the demographics of the user, except to the extent that a user’s ability or willingness to pay may govern what information they have access to. Moreover, they are limited to certain categories of information (i.e., legal opinions, statutes, and regulations). You may still wish to begin your search on the open internet (to refine your questions) or end your search on the open internet to see if you missed anything.

Browser Tools

To remove the blinders, start with your browser. If you are using Google Chrome, run it in Guest Mode. When you start Chrome, it asks you to log in to get access to your preferences. If you want curated entertainment, log in. But if you want to get objective results based on your questions, log out or click on the Guest Mode button in the lower right corner. Alternatively, run in Incognito Mode by clicking on the three dots in the upper right corner and choose “New Incognito Window.” You should also go into settings, under Privacy and Security, and choose “clear browsing data.” I would recommend doing a complete purge every week; choose Time Range = “All time.”

If you use the Microsoft Edge browser, it will already know who you are because it is tied to the Windows operating system. There is a similar option to run without cookies. Click on the three dots in the upper right side of your browser and choose “New InPrivate Window.” Further down on that same menu is a Settings option. Under “Cookies and Site Permissions,” there is an option to remove all cookies and site data, but you will have to first click on “See all cookies and site date” and then click on “Remove all.”

These changes may remove some of the blinders, but they do not guarantee complete anonymity. Your computer broadcasts an Internet Protocol (IP) address. This can be used to identify you to the website you are on, including Google Search. Moreover, the second you log in to any website, all bets are off; you are a known commodity and full blinders are back on.

Traveling Incognito

One option is to assume an alias or persona. It is a little bit like being a spy. If you appear one way, you will get the information that the providers assume you want. As you would craft a specialized search, craft the personae. Play devil’s advocate and make two personae who are polar opposites. Check out the results. In Google, you could set up an alternative Gmail address that you use for certain types of searches.

You may still be revealed by your IP address. To address this issue, you might consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service. There are several vendors, including Norton Secure VPN, Total VPN, and NordVPN. For a small monthly fee, these services obscure your IP address and replace it with the IP address of one of the VPN provider’s computers. Be aware that VPNs are often used to hide shady activity by shady users. Your new IP address will have a search history and reputation that matches those of all the other users of the VPN service. And so, some of the algorithms may flag you as one of those users and skew your search results.

Alternative Browsers

If you are concerned that the algorithms will skew your search results, you might consider an alternative browser to Google, Microsoft Edge, or Apple’s Safari engine. Other search engines are developed open source or generate revenue from subscriptions. They may have an economic model that doesn’t depend on invading your privacy and altering search results to search up advertising and paid content.

Opera ( has a reputation for being privacy-friendly—meaning it is easier to configure ad blockers that work and to travel incognito.

DuckDuckGo (DDG) has a free engine that limits advertising to the actual search terms, the way Google used to do it. It hides your search history from your internet search provider because all searches are run in-app on the DDG website. For an extra fee, DDG will remove advertising completely. Ironically, DDG has been criticized because its search results are not personalized.

Brave ( search engine is a newcomer, launched in 2019. It offers the ultimate in private browsing, including VPN technology that hides who you are and your IP address. It also has an interesting approach to advertisements. Users are compensated in cryptocurrency with BAT tokens for clicking on advertising links.

Power of AI Personae—System Messages

A new option for search is presented by large language model (LLM) search engines like Chat GPT (, Google’s Bard (, Search Generative Experience, and Brave Search ( LLM uses plain English, instead of keywords, to drive a search. In this way, you can craft a search more precisely. As an added benefit, the search can include, in addition to the user question or prompt, a system message that contains instructions on how to answer the question.

You can expressly ask the AI engine to be biased in a particular way. It can be asked to be creative—in which case you may get some inventive answers—or it can be accurate, in which case it will fact-check each word for a high probability of truth. In OpenAI, the engine used by Microsoft, the accuracy versus inventiveness is represented as a temperature, with cold being the accurate end of the spectrum and hot being the inventive end of the spectrum.

When applied to legal research, if you are writing a legal brief, you can set the temperature to cold or precise when you propose your questions to the AI and ask it to give specific legal citations to supporting cases. On the other hand, if you are drafting a closing argument to a jury, you might set the temperature to hot or creative to get more expansive rhetoric. You can provide the AI engine context by specifying who will be making the closing argument. In this example, if you are a prosecutor, you will want a different result than if you are acting as defense counsel. With AI you can tweak the algorithm to do what you want.

As an aside, I fed the first paragraph of this article into ChatGPT to see if it could improve the introduction with facts I could not easily find. You can see the result where ChatGPT clarified my movie and television references with factual information about the movie’s origin and corrections about the facts of the particular scenes referenced.

Seeking Out Bias

One way to wrestle control from the algorithms is to join or subscribe to a curator who has the bias or specialty that you are seeking. Such a person, site, or community can provide useful information rapidly and can also expose rhetoric, propaganda, and other false information. If you find a website and want to understand its bias, you can go to Media Bias/Fact Check ( and see its rating for the source on different bias spectrums.

A website called AllSides ( purports to offer balanced news from left, center, and right. Articles are color-coded from blue (left), purple (center,) and red (right). As a paid subscriber, you can run searches and have your results color-coded.

I was introduced to Reddit ( by my 25-year-old nephew and Discord ( by my son. Instead of focusing on the publishers, information on these sites is organized around topics and affinity groups known as “communities.” Each community has its own URL for ease of access. Most visitors can comment on a post. If a user wants to add a new post, however, they need to satisfy the posting rules of the group. The posts often include links to articles of interest, which are then critiqued. It can be a community-based fact-checking. In this way, information is curated based on the bias of the community. By joining several communities, you may get the level of balance or bias that you are seeking. Be warned, some of the communities are pretty freewheeling.

Many content creators who publish on YouTube or elsewhere also have paid content sites hosted on Substack ( or Patreon ( On these publishing platforms, content creators charge for regular access to their news and opinions. The content creators become your curator. On Substack and Patreon, you discover a content creator and then subscribe to their content. Some offer freebies with an upsell; others require payment to get unlimited access. The content is biased in that it reflects the outlook of the content creator and any commercial sponsors, but it is not biased around who you are.


There are times when the news is too good to be true or so outrageous that it must be wrong. Sources that reputedly get everything wrong sometimes get it right. Several sites review the facts and rate news claims for accuracy. Among the top websites are Snopes (, (, PolitiFact (, and TruthOrFiction ( These sites focus on the topic and present facts in support of and against the truth of a claim.

These days, many stories will lead with a picture. Anyone who has studied photojournalism knows that the way you frame a picture can indicate bias and can be a source of misrepresentation. Moreover, pictures can be altered, reframed, and mislabeled. With a little effort, you can fact-check pictures with TinEye ( If you can get the URL that includes the name of the image file, TinEye will show you every article and website that has used the picture. Many an image that purports to be a tank battle in Ukraine turns out to be a picture from Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.

The Future of Factual Research

In the old days, lawyers would go to libraries, government agencies, and document repositories to conduct factual research. Today, lawyers, especially young ones, are becoming more dependent on the open internet to carry out factual research needed to build cases, review transactions, or ferret out possible liability traps.

A lawyer who uses the open Internet for factual research must find all the facts he needs. A search limited by a predictive algorithm that takes into account extrinsic factors about the user can lead to a nightmare scenario. Picture a lawyer standing in front of a court, in a board meeting, or even meeting with a client with only half of the information. And then picture the opposing counsel standing up and having the information that your lawyer never saw on the open internet search. If you are going to use the open internet for factual research, you must remove the blinders.