Google Discover is now so bad, it shows stories on topics users had hidden

Google Discover continues to behave bizarrely, ignoring user settings to hide articles on specific topics.

Ever since the start of March 2021 – and even earlier for some users – the Google Discover Feed has gone rogue. Users with Android devices seem to have been hit the hardest with the front row seat of what might happen when there is nobody to turn our Robot Overlords off and on one day.

While a confirmed bug that resulted in users not being able to sign into their Google Discover feed has reportedly been fixed, several others persist.

It is worth noting that the Discover Feed does sometimes run into a few glitches, as we have documented over in our extensive catalogue of  the Great Google Discover Decline of March 2021 over here.

Current issues have lasted far longer than previously and there has been no official communication acknowledging the problems, despite there being suggestions in the public workflow repositories that there are technical difficulties with the service.

The issues have been widely reported on official Google support forums as well as social media platforms like Reddit and Twitter and the most common reports are variations on the following complaints:

  • Google Discover shows a “No cards available right now” message
  • Feeds are empty, but there is no error explaining what is wrong
  • General complaints about inability to match the relevance of cards

Another problem with older content not displaying the “In Case You Missed It” tag appears to have been fixed (at least on our test devices), the relevance of the Google Discover Feed remains discombobulated and nowhere near the level of usefulness it had reached before.

In fact, the content delivery on the personalised Google feed has gotten so bad in some cases that it is simply ignoring any rules to “hide” certain topics even when it is set by the user.

Long before these bugs surfaced, we started to run an experiment in an attempt to gather data on what exactly might influence behaviour on the content that might appear on a personal Google Discover feed. The documentation is currently extremely thin and publishers cannot control what does and does not show.

The dataset was meant to be a sophisticated offering, something more akin to that of the article: What I Found After Experimenting with Google Discover for Two Months written by Mordy Oberstein and published over on Moz.

However, the test devices have become quite useful in building a picture – and to try and find variables – of just how out of whack these feeds are.

Google Discover shows topics marked “not interested in” to users

One of the test devices in our experiment uses a different e-mail address and profile – completely opposite to my own personal one. One key distinction is that this profile has sent strong signals that they are not interested in sport.

Considering just how much interest there is in sport generally, this experiment was designed to see how quickly Discover will understand the behaviours when it is guided by deliberate instructions from the user.

The profile was set up before the feeds went rogue, but there was not sufficient time between establishing the persona and the current bugs to form a hypothesis. However, since then, the Discover Feed is having a very hard time with instruction.

Despite having hidden sport as a topic – including some teams specifically – and hidden sport updates, the Discover Feed on these devices remains littered with stories about…erm…well…sport. These include everything from match reports to live blog updates (19 hours after the event, but anyway), including from non-mainstream sources.

Ordinarily, a mix of sources is one of the most appealing things about Discover, but it is utterly bizarre when they show up on a topic that a user has deliberately chosen to hide. Even more perplexing is the appearance of the Discover more card – which includes both sport and football, despite, well you get the picture by now.

This is not exclusive to sport either. On the same profile, we had previously documented how Lottery results would keep appearing – again including from random sources all over the world – despite this being marked as a hidden topic.

On my personal feed, Discover seemingly didn’t care for my instruction that a sports result card (I am interested in sport, obviously) was no longer of use to me.  On Wednesday, the prompt appeared more than once, seemingly not registering my repeated rebuttals.

There are some reasons to believe that the ongoing issues with Discover are related either to recent updates to the Android Operating system or Chrome – or both – but Google has not confirmed anything on any official channels.

Full disclosure: As a creator with a presence on Google Discover, these bugs have had a devastating effect. However, documenting these issues is in the interest of all users – especially with the lack of communication from any official channels.