Internal Google documents reveal discussions of biasing search results against Trump travel ban

It must be heady to be a senior executive at Google, the fabulously profitable king of Silicon Valley, and the biggest source of information in the world.  Tucker Carlson (below) calls it "the most powerful company in the history of the world"[i].  Google can control what information becomes available to those searching for it, so it is not an exaggeration to suggest that it can heavily influence voting behavior, and therefore influence decision-makers in democratically elected governments.

Thus, any systematic effort on the part of Google to bias search results is of great concern, placing substantial political power in the hands of an entity that can serve its own interests – for example, the availability of work visas for foreign nationals it would like to employ for lower compensation than Americans might demand.

Yesterday, two media outlets, the Wall Street Journal and Tucker Carlson, revealed that they had seen internal Google emails that seem to confirm that the company openly discussed advancing its own interests in the matter of visas via biasing search results.  There was some concern expressed by one P.R. executive about being perceived as politically biased, and in response to media inquiries, Google flat-out denied that it has ever biased its search results, calling the emails "brainstorming" – as if open discussion of an idea that might be illegal (in-kind political contributions, for instance) is no big deal.

I must note that of late, when I search various topics related to conservative concerns, Google search results contrast sharply with those from other search engines, such as DuckDuckGo and even Bing (owned by Microsoft), providing me almost entirely progressive and left sources on the first page.  But this is impressionistic evidence, awaiting more systematic research to be useful.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, John D. McKinnon and Douglas MacMillan explain the emails and their context:

The Google emails were written on Sunday, Jan. 29, two days after Mr. Trump signed the first version of his travel order, which generally restricted immigration to the U.S. from several majority-Muslim countries.

One of the emails, from an employee of the Search Product Marketing division, explained that there was a "large brainstorm" going throughout the company's marketing division over how to respond.

"Overall idea: Leverage search to highlight important organizations to donate to, current news, etc. to keep people abreast of how they can help as well as the resources available for immigrations [sic] or people traveling," the email says.

The email included a compilation of specific ideas that individual company officials had already floated.  Some apparently involved finding ways to "actively counter" Google searches that produced anti-Islamic and anti-Hispanic search results.  Others centered on Highlights, the code name for an experimental project Google has tested that allows influential people, like politicians and musicians, to post text updates that appear directly in search results.

The list of ideas included:

"Actively counter islamophobic, algorithmically biased results from search terms 'Islam', 'Muslim', 'Iran', etc."

"Actively counter prejudiced, algorithmically biased search results from search terms 'Mexico', 'Hispanic', 'Latino', etc."

"Can we launch an ephemeral experience that includes Highlights, up-to-date info from the US State Dept, DHS, links to donate to ACLU, etc?" the email added.

Several officials responded favorably to the overall idea.  "We're absolutely in...Anything you need," one wrote.

But a public-affairs executive wrote: "Very much in favor of Google stepping up, but just have a few questions on this," including "how partisan we want to be on this."

"To the extent of my knowledge, we'd be breaching precedent if we only gave Highlights access to organizations that support a certain view of the world in a time of political conflict," the public-affairs executive said.  "Is that accurate?  If so, would we be willing to open access to highlights to [organizations] that...actually support the ban?"

Last night on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show, the host also discussed the emails:

Attorney General Sessions is set to meet with 24 – almost half – of the attorneys general of the states to discuss breaking up the hi-tech monopolies, and Silicon Valley's own newspaper, the Mercury News, warned of the movement to break up Google specifically.  With their unimaginable wealth and power, it would be understandable if the tech lords considered themselves invulnerable.  I wonder how many of them regard the Bible as a source of eternal wisdom.  I wonder if any of them takes seriously the warning of the Book of Proverbs, 16:18 (KJV): "Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall."

More than a century ago, when the Industrial Revolution was transforming life then the same way the Information Revolution is transforming life now, Rockefeller's Standard Oil near monopoly reigned in the production of hydrocarbons.  That assemblage of oil companies was broken up by the antitrust laws its dominance, arrogance, and monopolistic practices provoked.  That's something that some of those Tesla-drivers in Mountain View ought to think about.  I doubt they have any concept of how much resentment they have provoked already.  As subpoenas from state A.G.s and discovery from James Damore's suit over his firing for his political views provide more internal evidence, there may well be serious consequences. 

[i] This is arguable, because we are well into the Information Age, and Google is the dominant supplier of information.  However, the historically minded might wish to consider that the East India Company directly ruled substantial parts of India.

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