Visions and values in the shaping of search engines

Search engines are not devoid of societal norms, values and ideologies. What visions and values influence the shaping and governing of search engines in the particular European context? The new research project „Algorithmic Imaginaries“ funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) tries to find an answer to this question.

Bing, Google & Yahoo are run by US-American technology companies. Big, universal search engines use personalized advertising to make profit. In Europe, Google holds a market share of more than 90% and hence dominates the search engine market. One reason is its innovative PageRank algorithm, but also its profitable business model based on „trade in data“. Google’s algorithm was known for innovation and objectivity at first. This positive image is increasingly overshadowed by discussions on user surveillance, commercialization of web information, and filter bubbles. Particularly since the NSA affair profit-oriented search engine operators have come under critique. These developments show that search engines are not devoid of societal values, political visions and ideologies. And exactly these ideologies and values are at the core of the research project.


Focusing on three European search engines the goal is to investigate how search engines are developed in the European context and what role common values and collective visions play in this. The choice of case studies tries to do justice to the diversity of the European search engine landscape: The first search project, Open-Web-Index, aims at providing an alternative to US-based search engines by developing a publicly funded, independent web index. The second search engine, YaCy, has the goal to build a decentral, non-commercial search engine that is owned by the public. The third case study, StartPage, is a privacy-friendly search engine that uses the Google index, but provides users with anonymity. The following questions will guide the analysis:

  • What motivations, value systems, and visions guide the development of European search engines?
  • How do these imaginations get translated into sociotechnical design practices?
  • What negotiations, compromises and power dynamics may be observed?
  • How do place and cultural context matter in the development of these search engines?


These questions will be answered using a case-study approach, which includes qualitative interviews, workshops with developers and on-site observations. The results from this analysis will be compared to results from two other research projects. The first project dealt with capitalist ideologies shaping the development of universal search engines. The second project investigated socio-political visions in the governing of search engines on the European level. The comparative analysis will use the concept „socio-technical imaginaries“ by Sheila Jasanoff, which will be further developed into a typology of „algorithmic imaginaries“. These will show how search technology and society are co-produced in particular economic, political and cultural settings. The primary focus on the European context is a particular strength of the project since tensions between globally operating search engines like Google and European visions and values seem to grow.



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Conference Papers/Speeches

Conference Papers/Speeches

  • 28/01/2021 , Wien
    Astrid Mager: 
    Algorithmen - Freund oder Feind?
    Live-Diskussion der Wiener Zeitung
  • 16/10/2020 , Online
    Astrid Mager: 
    Ask Susi! Analyzing open search technology between German hacker ethics and Asian start-up culture
    Momentum Kongress: Republik
  • 16/10/2020 , online
    Doris Allhutter,  Astrid Mager,  : 
    Algorithmic Welfare: BürgerInnen-Profiling im Wohlfahrtsstaat
    Momentum Kongress: Republik
  • 11/09/2020 , Linz
    Astrid Mager: 
    How to create your own AI device with SUSI.AI – An open source platform for conversational web
    Ars Electronica Festival
  • 19/08/2020 , online /Prague
    Astrid Mager: 
    Future imaginaries in the making and governing of digital technology: Multiple, contested, commodified
    4S/EASST conference 2020
  • 18/08/2020 , online /Prague
    Astrid Mager: 
    How to push back hegemonic search? Analyzing alternative imaginaries in search engine design and their potential to contribute to more open digital futures
    4S/EASST conference 2020
  • 05/12/2019 , Wien
    Astrid Mager: 
    Das eingefärbte Fenster zu Welt
    punkt eins
  • 26/11/2019 , Wien, Museumsquartier
    Astrid Mager: 
    Algorithmen, Daten und Netzwerke
    Tagung: Wiener Netzwerke 1920 - 1970 - 2020
  • 15/11/2019 , Maastricht
    Astrid Mager: 
    Data protection is a fundamental right. Examining sociotechnical imaginaries of search engines and Europe
    Digital society research day
  • 13/11/2019 , Wien
    Astrid Mager: 
    Der "gute" Algorithmus
    Occupy Internet
  • 14/10/2019 , Wien
    Astrid Mager: 
    Wearables, Selbstvermessung und Fitnessapps und mögl. Herausforderungen für die Gesundheitsbildung
    Digitalisierung – Medien – Bildung Was bedeutet Digitalisierung für die Erwachsenenbildung?
  • 26/04/2019 , Hamburg
    Astrid Mager: 
    Alternative search engines as drivers for social change?
    Information Science Trends: Search Engines and Information Retrieval
  • 16/03/2019 , Singapur
    Astrid Mager: 
    Where is SUSI in the AI?
    Singapur Open Tech Summit
  • 21/01/2019 , Wien
    Astrid Mager: 
    Visions and values in European search engine design
    Aspects of the Digital Transformation
  • 07/12/2018 , Wien
    Astrid Mager: 
    Body data – data body. Tracing ambiguous trajectories of data bodies between empowerment and social control in the context of Health
    Workshop Digital Data(-fication)
  • 15/11/2018 , Berlin
    Astrid Mager: 
    Algorithmen, Daten und Ideologien. Zur Analyse von sozio-technischen Praktiken in der Gestaltung von (alternativen) Suchmaschinen
    Jahrestagung der Gesellschaft für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung
  • 19/10/2018 , Hallstatt
    Astrid Mager: 
    Selbst vermessen – fremd gesteuert
    Momentum Kongress 2018
  • 18/09/2018 , Klagenfurt
    Astrid Mager: 
    Social innovation. Alternative search engines as drivers for social change?
    STS Austria Conference "Innovation and Societal Transformation: Science, Democracy, and Sustainable Futures"
  • 26/07/2018 , Lancaster
    Astrid Mager: 
    “Data protection is a fundamental right in Europe”. Examining sociotechnical imaginaries of search engines and a European identity
    EASST2018: Meetings – Making Science, Technology and Society together
  • 11/06/2018 , Wien
    Astrid Mager: 
    Technikforschung als Gesellschaftskritik? Analyse der Rolle von Normativität in meiner Forschung zu alternativen Suchmaschinen
    TA'18: Technikfolgenabschätzung und Normativität – An welchen Werten orientiert sich TA?


11/2016 - 08/2022

Project team


Elise Richter project.