Search-Engine Suggestions Are Catering to Cash-Strapped Consumers : Planet Money Search engines reflect tough economic times with their autofills. Try typing in "filing" and see what the search engine suggests to complete the phrase-- it's not "cabinet."
NPR logo Search-Engine Suggestions Are Catering to Cash-Strapped Consumers

Search-Engine Suggestions Are Catering to Cash-Strapped Consumers

Search-engine suggestions reflect economic realities WALTER BIERI/Keystone hide caption

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They may be based on little more than algorithms, but search engines are still sensitive to tough economic times.

A client report from BNY ConvergEx first reported by the Wall Street Journal shows that when phrases like "filing" or "I want to sell" get typed into Google, Bing, and Yahoo!, the auto-complete suggestions respond with the appropriate empathy.

Type in "filing," for example, and the auto-complete is likely to display "unemployment." That's a change from January, the last time ConvergEx did the research on searches it considers economically sensitive. Back then, the auto-fill tended to be "bankruptcy."

Because auto-complete technology has been around a relatively short time, ConvergEx chief markets strategist Nicholas Colas says he has no data on what it might have suggested when people were more flush. But he thinks terms like "filing cabinet" and "filing taxes" would have trumped today's depressing fill-ins.

Start typing "I want to sell..." and Google's top three suggestions are "car," "house," and "gun." "Dog" pops up in the top ten too, which Colas finds depressing. "How bad can things be, if you want to sell your dog?" he asks.

For kicks, he suggests typing in "my son's first" and seeing what the auto-complete function comes up with.