14 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY February 29-march 6, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com FORUM OPINION Search Party The once-mighty Google search engine is now rife with fraudulent search results. By Caitlin Fillmore I remember my first-ever internet search as a child in October 1999. My elementary school had upgraded to those adorable jelly bean iMac G3s. It was on Yahoo!, because that was the only website I knew. My friends and I squeezed into three plastic chairs, faces shining with excitement toward the comparatively tiny 15-inch screen. We were paralyzed by limitless choice and decided to search for the first thing we could think of. We were girls, so “girls” it was. As you may imagine, this went very, very wrong. Now 25 years later, I am still making elementary mistakes when it comes to seeking answers online—but it’s not all my fault. A few weeks ago I attempted to research Covered California. I Googled the name of this government program, the state’s online marketplace to find affordable insurance, and clicked on the first search result. It was like I was back in fifth grade and it was my first day on the internet. Even though Covered California is a robust website, operated as a partnership between the California Health Benefit Exchange and the California Department of Health Care Services, it is still a prime target for scam websites. In this case, a plain, white screen beckoned me to follow a link because Covered California had moved. Luckily for me and my screenglazed brain, this logic seemed fishy. I quickly backed out and located the correct website, coveredca.com—the sixth entry in Google search results. Covered California is well aware of the potential for scams and offers a Consumer Protection website to help insurance shoppers protect themselves. Notably, scam websites rank in the top three most common types of fraud for Covered California. The problem is growing. The 2022 blog “Google Search is Dying” and a 2023 article in The Atlantic, “The Tragedy of Google Search,’’ point to unregulated, revenue-generating tools like search engine optimization (SEO), AI and advertising as the culprits for the search engine’s dissolution. As Charlie Warzel writes in The Atlantic, “[Google Search] is also, like the modern web, creaking under the weight of its enormous size and an infinitely renewable supply of content, both human- and AI-generated…It’s harder now to find answers that feel authoritative or uncompromised.” The University of Wisconsin offers a few simple tips to search the internet more safely, including installing a VPN, analyzing the security and privacy settings on your browser of choice, and scrutinizing search results using services like Google Safe Browsing to verify links. This informative, trustworthy article was the first legitimate result in a Google Search for “tips for safe internet searches.” It appeared 18th on the list. As Congressional hearings continue to excoriate the internet’s titans (but not regulate them), it’s up to consumers to protect themselves against increasingly vulnerable search results. That is, if you can find the correct information. Caitlin Fillmore is a freelance writer based in Monterey. Her work appears at caitlinslhfillmore. com. “It’s harder now to find answers.” Try Us First. We Pay The Highest! MONTEREY COIN SHOPPE Since 1970 same street for 40 years Open Mon-Thur 11am-4pm and Friday by appointment only. Call for an appointment: 831.646.9030 449 Alvarado St., Monterey www.montereycoinshoppe.com WE BUY GOLD AND SILVER, JEWELRY, COINS, DIAMONDS, WATCHES, ART & RARE ANTIQUES Is it time for a Room Refresh? Your home is your sanctuary and should support personal growth. Visit our website to schedule a complimentary call to discuss rejuvenating your space. VENTANADESIGN.CO A Monterey Bay Interior Design Firm 101 W. Laurel Dr, Salinas • (831)443-6161 Mon-Sat 9am-6pm Sun 10am-5pm $2.75 Rooster Chicks $4.00 Pullet Chicks with a purchase of one of the following items 50lb medicated chick start & grow 50lb non-medicated chick start & grow 35lb organic chick start & grow 50lb flock raiser crumble Chicks and feed must be purchased at the same time for special pricing to apply. Special pricing cannot be combined with any other discounts or offers. Special pricing does not apply to 25lb bags of feed. Offer valid while supplies last. Chick Days MARCH 22 Low cost vaccination clinic for dogs & cats. Microchipping. Prescription flea/tick medication. OPEN SAT 2:30PM-4:30PM • SUN 11AM-1PM