What do people really think? A data scientist has analysed Google search data to discover the hidden behaviours and attitudes of regular people that they don't want others to know about.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is the author of Everybody Lies Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are – a new book listing interesting statistics about what users search for on Google that they can't reveal to the people in their lives.
Stephens-Davidowitz posits that everyone lies about something in their lives. Sometimes, they even lie to themselves. However, when they need information and they don't want to ask an actual person for help, they turn to Google, and tell the search engine their darkest secrets.
For instance, Google search data shows that men make more searches on how to increase the size of their penises than they do about how to tune a guitar, change a tyre or cook an omelette. Men care far more about what will happen to their penis than they do about how the rest of their body will change as they age.
In contrast, women are not really concerned about their partner's penis size. Rather than it being too small, they are more concerned about the phallus being too big, and are mostly likely to search for how to deal with "pain during sex".
After penis size, the second most common sex question asked by men is how to make their sexual encounters last longer. However, for all the queries men make about how to climax more slowly, women search for how to get their partners to orgasm more quickly.
Implicit racism and gender bias
Stephens-Davidowitz also discovered that hidden explicit racism definitely exists in the US. African Americans feel discriminated against but white Americans almost always deny being racist.
Yet Google tells a different story – millions of white Americans routinely search for "n****r jokes", and the areas where the most racist searches are made are where companies are known to pay African-Americans far less money.
When it comes to marital woes, women in states that are least tolerant of homosexuality are 10% more likely to search for "Is my husband gay?" than to search for "Is my husband cheating?" or "Is my husband depressed?"
Google search data also shows that parents have an implicit bias about their children. If they want to find out whether their young children are gifted, they are far more likely to search for "Is my son a genius?" than to ask the same question about their daughters, despite the fact that girls in US schools are 9% more likely to be in gifted programmes than boys.
Parents are also far more likely to care about their daughters' appearances, and were twice as likely to search for "Is my daughter overweight?" than "Is my son overweight?", even though 35% of boys are overweight and only 28% of girls are.
"If people consistently tell us what they think we want to hear, we will generally be told things that are more comforting than the truth. Digital truth serum, on average, will show us that the world is worse than we have thought," Stephens-Davidowitz writes in an extract published in The Guardian.
"Google search data and other wellsprings of truth on the internet give us an unprecedented look into the darkest corners of the human psyche. This is at times, I admit, difficult to face. But it can also be empowering. We can use the data to fight the darkness. Collecting rich data on the world's problems is the first step toward fixing them."
Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are is published on 5 September 2017.