News and Commentary

Report: Despite Google’s Denials, It Does Manipulate Algorithms
Google logo is seen displayed on a phone screen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on November 13, 2019.
Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In a lengthy and comprehensive article, The Wall Street Journal delineates that despite Google’s protestations that it does not manipulate the algorithms to that direct its search engine, there is ample evidence that Google does indeed manipulate the algorithm.

The Journal starts by noting roughly 3.8 million queries are typed every minute into Google, adding, “Google is now the most highly trafficked website in the world, surpassing 90% of the market share for all search engines.”

The Journal reports, “Google executives have said repeatedly—in private meetings with outside groups and in congressional testimony—that the algorithms are objective and essentially autonomous, unsullied by human biases or business considerations.” The Journal notes a Google blog stating, “We do not use human curation to collect or arrange the results on a page.”

But then the Journal fires, “Over time, Google has increasingly re-engineered and interfered with search results to a far greater degree than the company and its executives have acknowledged, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found. Those actions often come in response to pressure from businesses, outside interest groups and governments around the world. They have increased sharply since the 2016 election and the rise of online misinformation, the Journal found.”

The Journal discovered algorithmic changes were implemented to favor big businesses over smaller ones, aiding companies such as Amazon and Facebook. The Journal adds, “Google engineers regularly make behind-the-scenes adjustments to other information the company is increasingly layering on top of its basic search results. These features include auto-complete suggestions, boxes called ‘knowledge panels’ and ‘featured snippets,’ and news results, which aren’t subject to the same company policies limiting what engineers can remove or change.”

The Journal reports that although Google says it does not keep blacklists, that is allegedly false; the company “keeps blacklists to remove certain sites or prevent others from surfacing in certain types of results.” Additionally, the Journal claims that “Google’s engineers have created algorithms and blacklists to weed out more-incendiary suggestions for controversial subjects, such as abortion or immigration …”

The Journal reports it tested the term “abortion” in organic search results in July and August. 39% of all results on the first page had the hostname On Bing, the percentage of search results that wound up at Planned Parenthood was 14%; on DuckDuckGo it was 16%.

Lara Levin, speaking for Google, attempted to refute the Journal’s findings, stating, “We do today what we have done all along, provide relevant results from the most reliable sources available.”

News Corp, which owns the Journal, has fought against Google’s alleged practice of discouraging news sites that charge for subscriptions. Google reportedly capitulated after that effort, The Journal adds, “More recently, News Corp has called for an ‘algorithm review board’ to oversee Google, Facebook and other tech giants.”

The Journal related an anecdote about the pro-life film “Unplanned”:

In April, the conservative Heritage Foundation called Google to complain that a coming movie called “Unplanned” had been labeled in a knowledge panel as “propaganda,” according to a person familiar with the matter. The film is about a former Planned Parenthood director who had a change of heart and became pro-life. After the Heritage Foundation complained to a contact at Google, the company apologized and removed “propaganda” from the description, that person said. Google’s Ms. Levin said the change “was not the result of pressure from an outside group, it was a violation of the feature’s policy.”

The Daily Wire reported in early September that fifty attorneys general announced they were joining an investigation into  Google over alleged antitrust violations.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said that Google “dominates all aspects of advertising on the Internet and searching on the Internet,” and that the investigation will initially start with Google’s advertising business “but the facts will lead where the facts lead.”

“The probe marks the latest regulatory headache for the tech giant and its Silicon Valley peers, which have faced growing criticism that they’ve grown too big and powerful, undermining rivals and resulting in costlier or worse service for web users,” The Washington Post reported. “Both the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission also are scrutinizing Big Tech, and DOJ officials issued Google their first legal demand for records at the end of August, according to a securities filing made by Google late Friday.”

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