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Information Retrieval and the Web

The science surrounding search engines is commonly referred to as information retrieval, in which algorithmic principles are developed to match user interests to the best information about those interests.

Google started as a result of our founders' attempt to find the best matching between the user queries and Web documents, and do it really fast. During the process, they uncovered a few basic principles: 1) best pages tend to be those linked to the most; 2) best description of a page is often derived from the anchor text associated with the links to a page. Theories were developed to exploit these principles to optimize the task of retrieving the best documents for a user query.

Search and Information Retrieval on the Web has advanced significantly from those early days: 1) the notion of ""information"" has greatly expanded from documents to much richer representations such as images, videos, etc., 2) users are increasingly searching on their Mobile devices with very different interaction characteristics from search on the Desktops; 3) users are increasingly looking for direct information, such as answers to a question, or seeking to complete tasks, such as appointment booking. Through our research, we are continuing to enhance and refine the world's foremost search engine by aiming to scientifically understand the implications of those changes and address new challenges that they bring.

Recent Publications

Scaling Up LLM Reviews for Google Ads Content Moderation
Ariel Fuxman
Chih-Chun Chia
Dongjin Kwon
Enming Luo
Mehmet Tek
Ranjay Krishna
Tiantian Fang
Tushar Dogra
Yu-Han Lyu
Preview abstract Large language models (LLMs) are powerful tools for content moderation but LLM inference costs and latency on large volumes of data, such as the Google Ads repository, are prohibitive for their casual usage. This study is focused on scaling up LLM reviews for content moderation in Google Ads. First, we use heuristics to select candidates via filtering and duplicate removal, and create clusters of ads for which we select one representative ad per cluster. Then, LLMs are used to review only the representative ads. Finally we propagate the LLM decisions for representative ads back to their clusters. This method reduces the number of reviews by more than 3 orders of magnitude while achieving a 2x recall compared to a non-LLM model as a baseline. Note that, the success of this approach is a strong function of the representations used in clustering and label propagation; we observed that cross-modal similarity representations yield better results than uni-modal representations. View details
(In)Security of File Uploads in Node.js
Harun Oz
Abbas Acar
Ahmet Aris
Amin Kharraz
Selcuk Uluagac
The Web conference (WWW) (2024) (to appear)
Preview abstract File upload is a critical feature incorporated by a myriad of web applications to enable users to share and manage their files conveniently. It has been used in many useful services such as file-sharing and social media. While file upload is an essential component of web applications, the lack of rigorous checks on the file name, type, and content of the uploaded files can result in security issues, often referred to as Unrestricted File Upload (UFU). In this study, we analyze the (in)security of popular file upload libraries and real-world applications in the Node.js ecosystem. To automate our analysis, we propose NodeSec– a tool designed to analyze file upload insecurities in Node.js applications and libraries. NodeSec generates unique payloads and thoroughly evaluates the application’s file upload security against 13 distinct UFU-type attacks. Utilizing NodeSec, we analyze the most popular file upload libraries and real-world ap- plications in the Node.js ecosystem. Our results reveal that some real-world web applications are vulnerable to UFU attacks and dis- close serious security bugs in file upload libraries. As of this writing, we received 19 CVEs and two US-CERT cases for the security issues that we reported. Our findings provide strong evidence that the dynamic features of Node.js applications introduce security shortcomings and that web developers should be cautious when implementing file upload features in their applications. View details
Preview abstract A recent large-scale experiment conducted by Chrome has demonstrated that a "quieter" web permission prompt can reduce unwanted interruptions while only marginally affecting grant rates. However, the experiment and the partial roll-out were missing two important elements: (1) an effective and context-aware activation mechanism for such a quieter prompt, and (2) an analysis of user attitudes and sentiment towards such an intervention. In this paper, we address these two limitations by means of a novel ML-based activation mechanism -- and its real-world on-device deployment in Chrome -- and a large-scale user study with 13.1k participants from 156 countries. First, the telemetry-based results, computed on more than 20 million samples from Chrome users in-the-wild, indicate that the novel on-device ML-based approach is both extremely precise (>99% post-hoc precision) and has very high coverage (96% recall for notifications permission). Second, our large-scale, in-context user study shows that quieting is often perceived as helpful and does not cause high levels of unease for most respondents. View details
Preview abstract The web utilizes permission prompts to moderate access to certain capabilities. We present the first investigation of user behavior and sentiment of this security and privacy measure on the web, using 28 days of telemetry data from more than 100M Chrome installations on desktop platforms and experience sampling responses from 25,706 Chrome users. Based on this data, we find that ignoring and dismissing permission prompts are most common for geolocation and notifications. Permission prompts are perceived as more annoying and interrupting when they are not allowed, and most respondents cite a rational reason for the decision they took. Our data also supports that the perceived availability of contextual information from the requesting website is associated with allowing access to a requested capability. More usable permission controls could facilitate adoption of best practices that address several of the identified challenges; and ultimately could lead to better user experiences and a safer web. View details
Preview abstract Zero-shot text rankers powered by recent LLMs achieve remarkable ranking performance by simply prompting. Existing prompts for pointwise LLM rankers mostly ask the model to choose from binary relevance labels like "Yes" and "No". However, the lack of intermediate relevance label options may cause the LLM to provide noisy or biased answers for documents that are partially relevant to the query. We propose to incorporate fine-grained relevance labels into the prompt for LLM rankers, enabling them to better differentiate among documents with different levels of relevance to the query and thus derive a more accurate ranking. We study two variants of the prompt template, coupled with different numbers of relevance levels. Our experiments on 8 BEIR data sets show that adding fine-grained relevance labels significantly improves the performance of LLM rankers. View details
Preview abstract Ranking documents using Large Language Models (LLMs) by directly feeding the query and candidate documents into the prompt is an interesting and practical problem. However, researchers have found it difficult to outperform fine-tuned baseline rankers on benchmark datasets. We analyze pointwise and listwise ranking prompts used by existing methods and argue that off-the-shelf LLMs do not fully understand these challenging ranking formulations. In this paper, we propose to significantly reduce the burden on LLMs by using a new technique called Pairwise Ranking Prompting (PRP). Our results are the first in the literature to achieve state-of-the-art ranking performance on standard benchmarks using moderate-sized open-sourced LLMs. On TREC-DL 2019&2020, PRP based on the Flan-UL2 model with 20B parameters performs favorably with the previous best approach in the literature, which is based on the blackbox commercial GPT-4 that has 50x (estimated) model size, while outperforming other LLM-based solutions, such as InstructGPT which has 175B parameters, by over 10% for all ranking metrics. By using the same prompt template on seven BEIR tasks, PRP outperforms supervised baselines and outperforms the blackbox commercial ChatGPT solution by 4.2% and pointwise LLM-based solutions by more than 10% on average NDCG@10. Furthermore, we propose several variants of PRP to improve efficiency and show that it is possible to achieve competitive results even with linear complexity. View details