With over 1 billion monthly searches for recipes, Google is in a prime position to influence what Americans “discover” when searching for food. The Internet search giant released a new tab next to the “Images, Videos, and Shopping choices” on their search-results screen: Recipes. This option will ultimately simplify finding professional recipe websites, but what it prioritizes and how is where the controversy begins.
The system offers new filtering options including ingredients, calories, and cooking time, which has critics are concerned that Google will be coming a bit too far into American homes. Supporters counter that by promoting quick and low-calorie meals first in search results, Google has the potential to shift the American diet. Some believe these classifications further play into what is termed the ‘American eating and cooking disorder’ in which convenience and price factor more heavily than health, fulfillment, or sustainable and local options.
The new algorithm for recipes is suspected to favor websites that invest in SEO, keywords, and web personnel over smaller sites and blogs. Having made the coding open to everyone, any Webmaster can transform their site to read as a “Recipe” site by Google, but critics fear the process is too difficult for novice coders. Recipe and food blogs will now need to change their websites if they hope to be connected to the Recipe-only searches.
Although this may simplify the search for recipes, it raises a larger question. What are the risks and opportunities for large search engines, like Google, to mold what the public finds on the Internet? And in turn, what is their responsibility regarding transparency, favoritism, and exclusion?
In this case, Google has provided the coding to the public, so it is the responsibility of the website to update their coding to match the Recipe algorithm. Google also was forthright in identifying what types of classifications were being prioritized. Some food activists believe that Google now plays a key role in re-shaping Americans’ relationship with food. Others welcome the simplification of recipes, by weeding out articles, blogs, and other literary sources, they can more quickly find recipes, see their reviews, and get to cooking.
As Google continues to role out additional filtering options for its powerful search engine, the questions revolving around responsibility, transparency, and power are sure to surface again.