The Atlantic

Our Searches, Our Selves

Google reveals the truth about people’s romantic insecurities.
Source: Edgard Garrido / Reuters

Perhaps the aphorism should be changed to “In Google, veritas.” Where do people go with their most intimate worries, thoughts, and fears? Not the nearest water cooler or humblebrag app. More likely, they’ll seek comfort in the relative privacy of a search box.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a former data scientist at Google, used his data-analysis skills to learn what was really on Americans’ minds. The result, a new book called Everybody Lies, shows how the terms and questions people type into search engines don’t at all match what they claim on surveys.

“So for example,” he told me recently, “there have historically been more searches for porn than for weather.” But just 25 percent of men and 8 percent of women will admit to survey researchers that they watch porn.

In addition to Google, some of his research comes from tape-recorder (rather than self-report) studies, which can provide a similar truth-serum effect.

I recently spoke with Stephens-Davidowitz about some of the most surprising findings from his book, which spans data on gender norms, prejudice, and romance. We focused on the search data about sex and relationships, because who are we kidding. An edited version of our conversation follows:


Olga Khazan: Speaking of porn, I was wondering if you could talk about pornography featuring violence against women. What's surprising about who looks

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