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

  • 07/09/2022 , Madrid
    Astrid Mager: 
    Alternative Search. Envisioning and encoding social justice in European search infrastructures
    EASST2022 - Politics of Technoscientifc Futures
  • 01/06/2022 , Wien
    Astrid Mager: 
    How to counter–act hegemonic search with alternative search projects from Europe
    International Digital Security Forum
  • 17/05/2022 , Wien
    Astrid Mager: 
    Algorithmic Imaginaries. Visions and values in the shaping of search engines
    Digital Humanities lecture series
  • 12/04/2022 , Wien
    Astrid Mager: 
    Algorithmic Imaginaries
    Lecture “Algorithmic Imaginaries” & panel discussion
  • 22/02/2022 , Wien
    Astrid Mager: 
    Algorithmische Imaginationen. Von der kapitalistischen Ideologie zur Suchmaschinen-Diversität?
    Lecture zu Gender & Diversity
  • 14/10/2021 , Hallstatt
    Astrid Mager: 
    Momentum Young Research Workshop
    Momentum Kongress, Preconference
  • 12/10/2021 , online / Genf
    Astrid Mager: 
    Encoding social change? Analysis of open search technology between German hacker ethics and Asian star-up culture
    3rd International Search Symposium (invited keynote)
  • 09/10/2021 , online / Toronto
    Astrid Mager: 
    Encoding Freedom: Analysis of open search technology between German hacker ethics and Asian start-up culture
    4S Annual Meeting 2021
  • 16/09/2021 , online / Lund
    Astrid Mager: 
    Searching for alternatives. How counter-imaginaries drive digital search technology
    Search Symposium, Lund University (invited keynote)
  • 11/05/2021 , online / Wien
    Astrid Mager: 
    Auf zu neuen Ufern? Analyse von alternativen Suchmaschinen und deren Imaginationen von demokratischen digitalen Zukünften
    Digital, direkt, demokratisch? Technikfolgenabschätzung und die Zukunft der Demokratie (NTA9-TA21)
  • 18/03/2021 , Wien
    Astrid Mager: 
    Coping with the Covid-19 crisis
    Virtual ÖAW Joint Academy Day (panel discussion)
  • 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 (invited keynote)


11/2016 - 11/2022

Project team


Elise Richter project.