Google has a new way of protecting you from misinformation in Search

Google search on a desktop, tablet and phone
(Image credit: Websitemockupgenerator)

*Update: Google got back to us and clarified the questions we had. For starters, the new snippets are available on Android, iOS, and desktop. They’re currently a work in progress and Google will continue to improve upon them, according to a company representative.

The About This changes are split into two. About This Result is on mobile devices and desktop with plans to expand language support which will include German and Dutch. About This Page is exclusive to iOS right now with Android support coming soon. This feature is also coming to French, Italian, and Spanish users across the world, but no concrete date has been given.

And finally, the content advisories are confirmed to be on mobile and desktop as well, but in English only. The notices are also landlocked to five countries: the US, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. It’s unknown if and when these advisories will roll out elsewhere.

Original story continues below.*

Google is updating its search engine to cut down on misleading snippets and improve the ways it educates people by adding more contextual information. Put another way, Google's expanding its efforts to stamp out misinformation across its formidable search service.

Snippets are the text you see highlighted at the top of a Search results page and are meant to provide a quick answer. While sources are included to back up the information, it appears there were instances of snippets giving a source that goes against the common scientific consensus. In what is arguably the biggest change in the update, featured snippets will have information that’s based on “multiple high-quality sources.”  

The improved snippets will be backed up by a Google AI called the Multitask United Model (MUM). The AI will actively check featured snippets and cross-reference that information against other sources to see if they all agree or if changes are necessary. Google claims this “technique has meaningfully improved the quality and helpfulness…” of featured snippets. 

Omitting misinformation

MUM will also help fight misleading information by not displaying snippets for questions that don’t have an answer or are considered to be a "false premise." Google offers the strange scenario of a user searching for the day Snoopy from Peanuts assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. That never happened, so it’s impossible to inform the user accurately and may result in a misleading snippet or give the wrong impression.

The company admits situations of Search creating misleading snippets are rare, but they do happen. It wants to preemptively combat this situation. Google claims snippets based on these “false premises” have already dropped 40 percent as part of the update.

Adding context

Other changes to Google Search affect the About This page and content advisories.

About This will now inform you how widespread a source is, reviews about the source, whether or not it’s owned by a parent company, and if there is any missing information. Google states all this is important to provide proper context. The Search feature is also getting support in eight other languages which all launch later this year. Language support includes Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, and Indonesian.

Content advisories are being expanded beyond developing news stories to include results that have questionable quality and sources. The announcement clarifies by stating this doesn’t mean good information isn’t out there for a particular search query or it was bad. It’s merely a reminder to be more skeptical of the things you find on that page.

A release date for the updates hasn’t been revealed, but it may be rolling out soon. When we checked Google on desktop and mobile, we didn’t see any differences: no new content advisories or About This page. We asked Google when people can expect the changes. This story will be updated if we get a response. 

Google has been hard at work combating misinformation on its search engine. In a recent Q&A, the company’s Public Liaison for Search revealed Google Search has dropped the number of irrelevant results by more than 50 percent. And recently, the tech giant revealed it's making some big changes to the Google Play Store to get rid of annoying ads and impersonators. Be sure to check out our coverage.

Cesar Cadenas

Cesar Cadenas has been writing about the tech industry for several years now specializing in consumer electronics, entertainment devices, Windows, and the gaming industry. But he’s also passionate about smartphones, GPUs, and cybersecurity.