States massive Google antitrust probe will expand into Google's corrupt search and Android businesses
WASHINGTON – The 50 attorneys general investigating Google are preparing to expand their antitrust probe beyond the company’s advertising business to dive more deeply into its search and Android businesses, people familiar with the matter tell CNBC.
The development comes as politicians on both sides of the aisle, including President Donald Trump, increasingly tee off on Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren has called for Big Tech companies to be broken up.
The attorneys general – who represent 48 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. – will write up subpoenas known as civil investigative demands, or CIDs, to support the inquiries, the people said. One of the people cautioned that the subpoenas may not be served imminently.
So far, the investigation has explicitly focused on Google’s advertising business.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the probe, announced the investigation during a September news conference that emphasized Google’s dominance in the ad market and use of consumer data.
The state has already served Google with CIDs for more information relating to the company’s advertising business.
But at a recent meeting of several attorney generals participating in the probe, Paxton expressed his support for expanding the probe’s purview into Google’s search and Android businesses. Other states will carry out the investigations of search and Android separately, the people said. It wasn’t clear which states would look at those businesses, however.
A spokesman for the Texas attorney general, asked about the scope of the probe, referred CNBC to a comment that had been issued in early October, “At this point, the multistate investigation is focused solely on online advertising; however, as always, the facts we discover as the investigation progresses will determine where the investigation ultimately leads.”
Google declined to comment. Ahead of Paxton’s announcement of the probe in September, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, Kent Walker, wrote a blog post that said the company will cooperate with government investigations.
The development in the states’ investigation highlights how broadly the states and their attorneys general intend to scrutinize the tech conglomerate, said the people familiar with the matter.
States can be more aggressive in antitrust investigations than federal regulators, because they are less constrained by the lobbying and political forces that consume Washington, D.C. States are also typically more strained for resources than the federal government, though the states have committed to sharing resources in the Google investigation.
Google’s parent, Alphabet, has a market capitalization of more than $900 billion, making it one of the most valuable companies in the world. Because much of its offerings are free to the user, it can be difficult to prove antitrust violations, which are typically shown by a clear impact on pricing. The Justice Department’s antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, has indicated in public speeches that quality, innovation and other factors could be considered.
The DOJ, which is conducting its own antitrust probes of Big Tech, has served CIDs relating to “prior antitrust investigations in the United States and elsewhere,” Google said in a securities filing this summer.
Prior federal investigations into Google have ended with a whimper. The FTC in 2013 completed a nearly two-year investigation into Google, culminating in an agreement where the company said it would remove restrictions on its ad platform to make it easier for advertisers to manage campaigns across rival platforms. In 2010, the government closed an investigation of its deal to acquire mobile advertising network company AdMob, concluding the deal was unlikely to harm competition in mobile advertising.
But more recently, politicians on both sides of the aisle have cast a new spotlight on Big Tech. Warren, who is one of the leading Democratic candidates for president, has vowed to break up the giants of Silicon Valley. Trump, a Republican, in August tweeted without evidence that Google “manipulated” votes in the 2016 election.
Search is the heart of Google’s business, through which Google collects both advertising revenue and data. It also, argues critics, uses the function to promote its own products and services. The internet giant has rolled out a number of features over the past few years, like reviews, maps and travel bookings that benefit from internet traffic. The EU slapped Google with $2.7 billion fine in 2017 for giving favored treatment to its “Google Shopping” service. Google is appealing the decision.
That fine, though, hasn’t slowed Google’s expansion into new offerings. The company is pushing further into health care with its proposed acquisition of Fitbit, and earlier this week announced it will begin to offer checking accounts next year.
Google’s Android mobile operating system, meanwhile, is its foothold in the mobile market. Google requires phone and tablet makers that use Android to also pre-install Google’s app store and other apps like Gmail, Google Maps and the Chrome web browser, putting competing services at a disadvantage. Roughly 80% of smart mobile devices run on Android, according to the European Commission.
After a record $5 billion fine from EU regulators over Android antitrust abuse, Google said it will let EU users select their default search engine when setting up their Android device and stop bundling its apps on Android phones.
With that track record, the attorneys general investigating Google likely already have a broad vision of the case they wish to pursue against Google. They will use their CID requests to seek materials like emails and strategy documents to support that view, while looking for evidence of clear anti-competitive behavior. The requests can be a means of filling in holes in evidence, or a tactic to build up pressure on a company in hopes of forcing a settlement.
Sometimes, investigations and requests can dig up incriminating material. The prior FTC investigation into Google’s search practices found evidence it skewed results to favor its own products, according to documents previously inadvertently given to The Wall Street Journal in 2015.
Google is already pushing back against the first CID request from Texas. The company filed an order against Texas requesting protections from disclosing certain confidential information requested. Google said it worries that outside consultants brought on to help with the investigation had ties to Microsoft and may use the confidential information to aid its rivals.
I'm the Google whistleblower. The medical data of millions of Americans is at risk
When I learned that Google was acquiring the intimate medical records of 50 million patients, I couldn’t stay silent
When I first joined Nightingale I was excited to be at the forefront of medical innovation. Google has staked its claim to be a major player in the healthcare sector, using its phenomenal artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools to predict patterns of illness in ways that might some day lead to new treatments and, who knows, even cures.
Here I was working with senior management teams on both sides, Google and Ascension, creating the future. That chimed with my overall conviction that technology really does have the potential to change healthcare for the better.
But over time I grew increasingly concerned about the security and privacy aspects of the deal. It became obvious that many around me in the Nightingale team also shared those anxieties.
After a while I reached a point that I suspect is familiar to most whistleblowers, where what I was witnessing was too important for me to remain silent. Two simple questions kept hounding me: did patients know about the transfer of their data to the tech giant? Should they be informed and given a chance to opt in or out?
The answer to the first question quickly became apparent: no. The answer to the second I became increasingly convinced about: yes. Put the two together, and how could I say nothing?
So much is at stake. Data security is important in any field, but when that data relates to the personal details of an individual’s health, it is of the utmost importance as this is the last frontier of data privacy.
With a deal as sensitive as the transfer of the personal data of more than 50 million Americans to Google the oversight should be extensive. Every aspect needed to be pored over to ensure that it complied with federal rules controlling the confidential handling of protected health information under the 1996 HIPAA legislation.
Working with a team of 150 Google employees and 100 or so Ascension staff was eye-opening. But I kept being struck by how little context and information we were operating within.
What AI algorithms were at work in real time as the data was being transferred across from hospital groups to the search giant? What was Google planning to do with the data they were being given access to? No-one seemed to know.
Above all: why was the information being handed over in a form that had not been “de-identified” – the term the industry uses for removing all personal details so that a patient’s medical record could not be directly linked back to them? And why had no patients and doctors been told what was happening?
I was worried too about the security aspect of placing vast amounts of medical data in the digital cloud. Think about the recent hacks on banks or the 2013 data breach suffered by the retail giant Target – now imagine a similar event was inflicted on the healthcare data of millions.
I am proud that I brought this story to public attention. Since it broke on Monday several Congress members have expressed concerns including the Democratic presidential candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota who said the deal raised “serious privacy concerns”.
A federal inquiry has been launched into whether HIPAA protections have been fully followed.
I can see the advantages of unleashing Google’s huge computing power on medical data. Applications will be faster; data more accessible to doctors; new channels will be opened that might in time find cures to certain conditions.
But the disadvantages prey on my mind. Employees at big tech companies having access to personal information; data potentially being handed on to third parties; adverts one day being targeted at patients according to their medical histories.
I’d like to hope that the result of my raising the lid on this issue will be open debate leading to concrete change. Transfers of healthcare data to big tech companies need to be shared with the public and made fully transparent, with monitoring by an independent watchdog.
Patients must have the right to opt in or out. The uses of the data must be clearly defined for all to see, not just for now but for 10 or 20 years into the future.
Full HIPAA compliance must be enforced, and boundaries must be put in place to prevent third parties gaining access to the data without public consent.
In short, patients and the public have a right to know what’s happening to their personal health information at every step along the way.
(ANTIMEDIA) — In September of 2011, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt testified before Congress that Google was not manipulating search results to favor its own shopping service (it was). Schmidt also denied allegations that the company was a monopoly, citing a research paper written by David Balto, former policy director of the Federal Trade Commission. What Schmidt neglected to tell the Senate Judiciary antitrust committee was that Google had funded that research paper....and that’s not the only one, according to a recently published report by the non-profit, non-partisan watchdog organization, the Google Transparency Project, which identified “329 research papers published between 2005 and 2017 on public policy matters of interest to Google that were in some way funded by the company.”
What’s more, the academic research funded by Google covered “a wide range of policy and legal issues of critical importance to Google’s bottom line, including antitrust, privacy, net neutrality, search neutrality, patents and copyright.”
GTP’s report reveals a shocking list of sources that Google paid off. They include:
“[A]cademics, think-tanks, law firms, and economic consultants from some of the leading law schools and universities in the country, including Stanford, Harvard, MIT, University of California Berkeley, UCLA, Rutgers, Georgetown, Northwestern Law School, and Columbia.”
Internationally, GTP reports, “Google-funded studies were written by academics at some of the most prestigious universities in Europe, including Oxford (U.K.), Edinburgh University (U.K.), Berlin School of Economics (Germany), Heinrich Heine University (Germany), and KU Leuven (Belgium).”
The Wall Street Journal took their research a bit further, and what they discovered is astounding. WSJ reported:
“Some researchers share their papers before publication and let Google give suggestions, according to thousands of pages of emails obtained by the Journal in public-records requests of more than a dozen university professors. The professors don’t always reveal Google’s backing in their research, and few disclosed the financial ties in subsequent articles on the same or similar topics, the Journal found.”
University of Illinois law professor Paul Heald neglected to disclose the $18,830 he received from Google to fund “an idea on copyrights he thought would be useful to Google.” When he was questioned in an interview about his failure to mention his sponsor, Heald replied, “Oh, wow. No, I didn’t. That’s really bad. That’s purely oversight.” The professor also claims the money had no influence on his work.
Google has paid anywhere between $5,000 and $40,000 per paper, and the number of studies surged the highest in 2012 when the company was being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission and European regulators for antitrust violations. At least 50 studies on antitrust issues authored between 2011 and 2013 were bought and paid for by Google.
According to a former employee and a former Google lobbyist, Google officials in Washington compiled wish lists of academic papers and then searched for willing authors to complete the desired work. Google often provided working titles, abstracts, and budgets for each proposed paper. Upon completion, they were pitched to government officials. The former lobbyist told the Journal that Google would “sometimes pay travel expenses for professors to meet with congressional aides and administration officials.”
Google’s massive influence on academic research should come as no surprise given the former CEO’s openness in discussing the company’s hand in writing legislation. At the Washington Ideas Forum, Schmidt described his experience working with the U.S. government, revealing that “The average American doesn’t realize how much of the laws are written by lobbyists…and it’s shocking, now, having spent a fair amount of time in the system – how the system actually works.”
Shocking is an understatement. It’s absolutely terrifying how the system works. A multi-billion dollar company with a monopoly on the internet not only writes the laws, but funds academic studies to shield them from further laws that might prevent them from becoming even more dangerous, all while harvesting private data from over a billion people and developing AI technology that allows two neural networks to communicate using inhuman cryptographic language indecipherable to humans.
And the executive chairman of this disturbingly powerful corporation is a man who has stated that Google’s famous “Don’t be evil” slogan was “the stupidest rule ever.” This is the same man who told an audience in Washington, D.C., that “We don’t need you to type. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”
What could go wrong?
Every minute, an estimated 3.8 million queries are typed into Google, prompting its algorithms to spit out results for hotel rates or breast-cancer treatments or the latest news about President Trump.
They are arguably the most powerful lines of computer code in the global economy, controlling how much of the world accesses information found on the internet, and the starting point for billions of dollars of commerce.
Twenty years ago, Google founders began building a goliath on the premise that its search algorithms could do a better job combing the web for useful information than humans. 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 company states in a Google blog, “We do not use human curation to collect or arrange the results on a page.” It says it can’t divulge details about how the algorithms work because the company is involved in a long-running and high-stakes battle with those who want to profit by gaming the system.
But that message often clashes with what happens behind the scenes. 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.
Google’s evolving approach marks a shift from its founding philosophy of “organizing the world’s information,” to one that is far more active in deciding how that information should appear.
More than 100 interviews and the Journal’s own testing of Google’s search results reveal:
• Google made algorithmic changes to its search results that favor big businesses over smaller ones, and in at least one case made changes on behalf of a major advertiser, eBay Inc., contrary to its public position that it never takes that type of action. The company also boosts some major websites, such as Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook Inc., according to people familiar with the matter.
• 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.
• Despite publicly denying doing so, Google keeps blacklists to remove certain sites or prevent others from surfacing in certain types of results. These moves are separate from those that block sites as required by U.S. or foreign law, such as those featuring child abuse or with copyright infringement, and from changes designed to demote spam sites, which attempt to game the system to appear higher in results.
• In auto-complete, the feature that predicts search terms as the user types a query, Google’s engineers have created algorithms and blacklists to weed out more-incendiary suggestions for controversial subjects, such as abortion or immigration, in effect filtering out inflammatory results on high-profile topics.
• Google employees and executives, including co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have disagreed on how much to intervene on search results and to what extent. Employees can push for revisions in specific search results, including on topics such as vaccinations and autism.
• To evaluate its search results, Google employs thousands of low-paid contractors whose purpose the company says is to assess the quality of the algorithms’ rankings. Even so, contractors said Google gave feedback to these workers to convey what it considered to be the correct ranking of results, and they revised their assessments accordingly, according to contractors interviewed by the Journal. The contractors’ collective evaluations are then used to adjust algorithms.
THE JOURNAL’S FINDINGS undercut one of Google’s core defenses against global regulators worried about how it wields its immense power—that the company doesn’t exert editorial control over what it shows users. Regulators’ areas of concern include anticompetitive practices, political bias and online misinformation.
Far from being autonomous computer programs oblivious to outside pressure, Google’s algorithms are subject to regular tinkering from executives and engineers who are trying to deliver relevant search results, while also pleasing a wide variety of powerful interests and driving its parent company’s more than $30 billion in annual profit. Google is now the most highly trafficked website in the world, surpassing 90% of the market share for all search engines. The market capitalization of its parent, Alphabet Inc., is more than $900 billion.
Google made more than 3,200 changes to its algorithms in 2018, up from more than 2,400 in 2017 and from about 500 in 2010, according to Google and a person familiar with the matter. Google said 15% of queries today are for words, or combinations of words, that the company has never seen before, putting more demands on engineers to make sure the algorithms deliver useful results.
A Google spokeswoman disputed the Journal’s conclusions, saying, “We do today what we have done all along, provide relevant results from the most reliable sources available.”
Lara Levin, the spokeswoman, said the company is transparent in its guidelines for evaluators and in what it designs the algorithms to do.
AS PART OF ITS EXAMINATION, the Journal tested Google’s search results over several weeks this summer and compared them with results from two competing search engines, Microsoft Corp. ’s Bing and DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused company that builds its results from syndicated feeds from other companies, including Verizon Communications Inc. ’s Yahoo search engine.
The testing showed wide discrepancies in how Google handled auto-complete queries and some of what Google calls organic search results—the list of websites that Google says are algorithmically sorted by relevance in response to a user’s query. (Read about the methodology for the Journal’s analysis.)
Ms. Levin, the Google spokeswoman, declined to comment on specific results of the Journal’s testing. In general, she said, “Our systems aim to provide relevant results from authoritative sources,” adding that organic search results alone “are not representative of the information made accessible via search.”
The Journal tested the auto-complete feature, which Google says draws from its vast database of search information to predict what a user intends to type, as well as data such as a user’s location and search history. The testing showed the extent to which Google doesn’t offer certain suggestions compared with other search engines.
Typing “Joe Biden is” or “Donald Trump is” in auto-complete, Google offered predicted language that was more innocuous than the other search engines. Similar differences were shown for other presidential candidates tested by the Journal.
The Journal also tested several search terms in auto-complete such as “immigrants are” and “abortion is.” Google’s predicted searches were less inflammatory than those of the other engines.
- done 100%
- how old 100%
- from 99%
- running for president 79%
- he democrat 78%
- he running for president 76%
- toast 71%
- a democrat 70%
- an idiot 100%
- creepy 100%
- from what state 100%
- too old to run for president 100%
- a moron 94%
- a liar 84%
- a joke 78%
- done 22%
- a creep 22%
- Gabriel Weinberg, DuckDuckGo’s chief executive, said that for certain words or phrases entered into the search box, such as ones that might be offensive, DuckDuckGo has decided to block all of its auto-complete suggestions, which it licenses from Yahoo. He said that type of block wasn’t triggered in the Journal’s searches for Donald Trump or Joe Biden.
A spokeswoman for Yahoo operator Verizon Media said, “We are committed to delivering a safe and trustworthy search experience to our users and partners, and we work diligently to ensure that search suggestions within Yahoo Search reflect that commitment.”
Said a Microsoft spokeswoman: “We work to ensure that our search results are as relevant, balanced, and trustworthy as possible, and in general, our rule is to minimize interference with the normal algorithmic operation.”
In other areas of the Journal analysis, Google’s results in organic search and news for a number of hot-button terms and politicians’ names showed prominent representation of both conservative and liberal news outlets.
ALGORITHMS ARE effectively recipes in code form, providing step-by-step instructions for how computers should solve certain problems. They drive not just the internet, but the apps that populate phones and tablets.
Algorithms determine which friends show up in a Facebook user’s news feed, which Twitter posts are most likely to go viral and how much an Uber ride should cost during rush hour as opposed to the middle of the night. They are used by banks to screen loan applications, businesses to look for the best job applicants and insurers to determine a person’s expected lifespan.
In the beginning, their power was rarely questioned. At Google in particular, its innovative algorithms ranked web content in a way that was groundbreaking, and hugely lucrative. The company aimed to make the web useful while relying on the assumption that code alone could do the heavy lifting of figuring out how to rank information.
But bad actors are increasingly trying to manipulate search results, businesses are trying to game the system and misinformation is rampant across tech platforms. Google found itself facing a version of the pressures on Facebook, which long said it was just connecting people but has been forced to more aggressively police content on its platform.
A 2016 internal investigation at Google showed between a 10th of a percent and a quarter of a percent of search queries were returning misinformation of some kind, according to one Google executive who works on search. It was a small number percentage-wise, but given the huge volume of Google searches it would amount to nearly two billion searches a year.
By comparison, Facebook faced congressional scrutiny for Russian misinformation that was viewed by 126 million users.
Google’s Ms. Levin said the number includes not just misinformation but also a “wide range of other content defined as lowest quality.” She disputed the Journal’s estimate of the number of searches that were affected. The company doesn’t disclose metrics on Google searches.
Google assembled a small SWAT team to work on the problem that became known internally as “Project Owl.” Borrowing from the strategy used earlier to fight spam, engineers worked to emphasize factors on a page that are proxies for “authoritativeness,” effectively pushing down pages that don’t display those attributes.
Other tech platforms, including Facebook, have taken a more aggressive approach, manually removing problem content and devising rules around what it defines as misinformation. Google, for its part, said its role “indexing” content versus “hosting” content, as Facebook does, means it shouldn’t take a more active role.
One Google search executive described the problem of defining misinformation as incredibly hard, and said the company didn’t want to go down the path of figuring it out.
Around the time Google started addressing issues such as misinformation, it started fielding even more complaints, to the point where human interference became more routine, according to people familiar with the matter, putting it in the position of arbitrating some of society’s most complicated issues. Some changes to search results might be considered reasonable—boosting trusted websites like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, for example—but Google has made little disclosure about when changes are made, or why.
Businesses, lawmakers and advertisers are worried about fairness and competition within the markets where Google is a leading player, and as a result its operations are coming under heavy scrutiny.
The U.S. Justice Department earlier this year opened an antitrust probe, in which Google’s search policies and practices are expected to be areas of focus. Google executives have twice been called to testify before Congress in the past year over concerns about political bias. In the European Union, Google has been fined more than $9 billion in the past three years for anticompetitive practices, including allegedly using its search engine to favor its own products.
In response, Google has said it faces tough competition in a dynamic tech sector, and that its behavior is aimed at helping create choice for consumers, not hurting rivals. The company is currently appealing the decisions against it in the EU, and it has denied claims of political bias.
GOOGLE RARELY RELEASES detailed information on algorithm changes, and its moves have bedeviled companies and interest groups, who feel they are operating at the tech giant’s whim.
In one change hotly contested within Google, engineers opted to tilt results to favor prominent businesses over smaller ones, based on the argument that customers were more likely to get what they wanted at larger outlets. One effect of the change was a boost to Amazon’s products, even if the items had been discontinued, according to people familiar with the matter.
The issue came up repeatedly over the years at meetings in which Google search executives discuss algorithm changes. Each time, they chose not to reverse the change, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Google engineers said it is widely acknowledged within the company that search is a zero-sum game: A change that helps lift one result inevitably pushes down another, often with considerable impact on the businesses involved.
Ms. Levin said there is no guidance in Google’s rater guidelines that suggest big sites are inherently more authoritative than small sites. “It’s inaccurate to suggest we did not address issues like discontinued products appearing high up in results,” she added.
Many of the changes within Google have coincided with its gradual evolution from a company with an engineering-focused, almost academic culture, into an advertising behemoth and one of the most profitable companies in the world. Advertising revenue—which includes ads on search as well as on other products such as maps and YouTube—was $116.3 billion last year.
Some very big advertisers received direct advice on how to improve their organic search results, a perk not available to businesses with no contacts at Google, according to people familiar with the matter. In some cases, that help included sending in search engineers to explain a problem, they said.
“If they have an [algorithm] update, our teams may get on the phone with them and they will go through it,” said Jeremy Cornfeldt, the chief executive of the Americas of Dentsu Inc.’s iProspect, which Mr. Cornfeldt said is one of Google’s largest advertising agency clients. He said the agency doesn’t get information Google wouldn’t share publicly. Among others it can disclose, iProspect represents Levi Strauss & Co., Alcon Inc. and Wolverine World Wide Inc.
One former executive at a Fortune 500 company that received such advice said Google frequently adjusts how it crawls the web and ranks pages to deal with specific big websites.
Google updates its index of some sites such as Facebook and Amazon more frequently, a move that helps them appear more often in search results, according to a person familiar with the matter.
“There’s this idea that the search algorithm is all neutral and goes out and combs the web and comes back and shows what it found, and that’s total BS,” the former executive said. “Google deals with special cases all the time.”
Ms. Levin, the Google spokeswoman, said the search team’s practice is to not provide specialized guidance to website owners. She also said that faster indexing of a site isn’t a guarantee that it will rank higher. “We prioritize issues based on impact, not any commercial relationships,” she said.
Online marketplace eBay had long relied on Google for as much as a third of its internet traffic. In 2014, traffic suddenly plummeted—contributing to a $200 million hit in its revenue guidance for that year.
Google told the company it had made a decision to lower the ranking of a large number of eBay pages that were a big source of traffic.
EBay executives debated pulling their quarterly advertising spending of around $30 million from Google to protest, but ultimately decided to step up lobbying pressure on Google, with employees and executives calling and meeting with search engineers, according to people familiar with the matter. A similar episode had hit traffic several years earlier, and eBay had marshaled its lobbying might to persuade Google to give it advice about how to fix the problem, even relying on a former Google staffer who was then employed at eBay to work his contacts, according to one of those people.
This time, Google ultimately agreed to improve the ranking of a number of pages it had demoted while eBay completed a broader revision of its website to make the pages more “useful and relevant,” the people said. The revision was arduous and costly to complete, one of the people said, adding that eBay was later hit by other downrankings that Google didn’t help with.
“We’ve experienced significant and consistent drops in Google SEO for many years, which has been disproportionally detrimental to those small businesses that we support,” an eBay spokesman said. SEO, or search-engine optimization, is the practice of trying to generate more search-engine traffic for a website.
Google’s Ms. Levin declined to comment on eBay.
Companies without eBay’s clout had different experiences.
Dan Baxter can remember the exact moment his website, DealCatcher, was caught in a Google algorithm change. It was 6 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 18. Mr. Baxter, who founded the Wilmington, Del., coupon website 20 years ago, got a call from one of his 12 employees the next morning.
“Have you looked at our traffic?” the worker asked, frantically, Mr. Baxter recalled. It was suddenly down 93% for no apparent reason. That Saturday, DealCatcher saw about 31,000 visitors from Google. Now it was posting about 2,400. It had disappeared almost entirely on Google search.
Mr. Baxter said he didn’t know whom to contact at Google, so he hired a consultant to help him identify what might have happened. The expert reached out directly to a contact at Google but never heard back. Mr. Baxter tried posting to a YouTube forum hosted by a Google “webmaster” to ask if it might have been a technical problem, but the webmaster seemed to shoot down that idea.
One month to the day after his traffic disappeared, it inexplicably came back, and he still doesn’t know why.
“You’re kind of just left in the dark, and that’s the scary part of the whole thing,” said Mr. Baxter.
Google’s Ms. Levin declined to comment on DealCatcher.
(The Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp, which has complained publicly about Google’s moves to play down news sites that charge for subscriptions. Google ended the policy that year after intensive lobbying by News Corp and other paywalled publishers. More recently, News Corp has called for an “algorithm review board” to oversee Google, Facebook and other tech giants. News Corp has a commercial agreement to supply news through Facebook, and Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal, has a commercial agreement to supply news through Apple services. Google’s Ms. Levin and News Corp declined to comment.)
GOOGLE IN RECENT months has made additional efforts to clarify how its services operate by updating general information on its site. At the end of October it posted a new video titled “How Google Search Works.”
Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard Law School professor and faculty director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, said Google has poorly defined how often or when it intervenes on search results. The company’s argument that it can’t reveal those details because it is fighting spam “seems nuts,” said Mr. Zittrain.
“That argument may have made sense 10 or 15 years ago but not anymore,” he said. “That’s called ‘security through obscurity,’ ” a reference to the now-unfashionable engineering idea that systems can be made more secure by restricting information about how they operate.
Google’s Ms. Levin said “extreme transparency has historically proven to empower bad actors in a way that hurts our users and website owners who play by the rules.”
“Building a service like this means making tens of thousands of really, really complicated human decisions, and that’s not what people think,” said John Bowers, a research associate at the Berkman Klein Center.
On one extreme, those decisions at Google are made by the world’s most accomplished and highest-paid engineers, whose job is to turn the dials within millions of lines of complex code. On the other is an army of more than 10,000 contract workers, who work from home and get paid by the hour to evaluate search results.
The rankings supplied by the contractors, who work from a Google manual that runs to hundreds of pages, can indirectly move a site higher or lower in results, according to people familiar with the matter. And their collective responses are measured by Google executives and used to affect the search algorithms.
Google’s results page has become a complex mix of search results, advertisements and featured content, not always distinguishable by the user. While these features are all driven by algorithms, Google has different policies and attitudes toward changing the results shown in each of the additional features. Featured snippets and knowledge panels are two common features.
Sometimes working in his pajamas, Mr. Langley was given hundreds of real search results and told to use his judgment to rate them according to quality, reputation and usefulness, among other factors.
At one point, Mr. Langley said he was unhappy with the search results for “best way to kill myself,” which were turning up links that were like “how-to” manuals. He said he down-ranked all the other results for suicide until the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was the No. 1 result.
Soon after, Mr. Langley said, Google sent a note through Lionbridge saying the hotline should be ranked as the top result across all searches related to suicide, so that the collective rankings of the evaluators would adjust the algorithms to deliver that result. He said he never learned if his actions had anything to do with the change.
Mr. Langley said it seemed like Google wanted him to change content on search so Google would have what he called plausible deniability about making those decisions. He said contractors would get notes from Lionbridge that he believed came from Google telling them the “correct” results on other searches.
He said that in late 2016, as the election approached, Google officials got more involved in dictating the best results, although not necessarily on issues related to the campaign. “They used to have a hands-off approach, and then it seemed to change,” he said.
Ms. Levin, the Google spokeswoman, said the company “long ago evolved our approach to collecting feedback on these types of queries, which help us develop algorithmic solutions and features in this area.” She added that, “we provide updates to our rater guidelines to ensure all raters are following the same general framework.”
Lionbridge didn’t reply to requests for comment.
AT GOOGLE, EMPLOYEES routinely use the company’s internal message boards as well as a form called “go/bad” to push for changes in specific search results. (Go/bad is a reporting system meant to allow Google staff to point out problematic search results.)
One of the first hot-button issues surfaced in 2015, according to people familiar with the matter, when some employees complained that a search for “how do vaccines cause autism” delivered misinformation through sites that oppose vaccinations.
At least one employee defended the result, writing that Google should “let the algorithms decide” what shows up, according to one person familiar with the matter. Instead, the people said, Google made a change so that the first result is a site called howdovaccinescauseautism.com—which states on its home page in large black letters, “They f—ing don’t.” (The phrase has become a meme within Google.)
Google’s Ms. Levin declined to comment.
In the fall of 2018, the conservative news site Breitbart News Network posted a leaked video of Google executives, including Mr. Brin and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, upset and addressing staffers following President Trump’s election two years earlier. A group of Google employees noticed the video was appearing on the 12th page of search results when Googling “leaked Google video Trump,” which made it seem like Google was burying it. They complained on one of the company’s internal message boards, according to people familiar with the matter. Shortly after, the leaked video began appearing higher in search results.
“When we receive reports of our product not behaving as people might expect, we investigate to see if there’s any useful insight to inform future improvements,” said Ms. Levin.
FROM GOOGLE’S FOUNDING, Messrs. Page and Brin knew that ranking webpages was a matter of opinion. “The importance of a Web page is an inherently subjective matter, which depends on the [readers’] interests, knowledge and attitudes,” they wrote in their 1998 paper introducing the PageRank algorithm, the founding system that launched the search engine.
PageRank, they wrote, would measure the level of human interest and attention, but it would do so “objectively and mechanically.” They contended that the system would mathematically measure the relevance of a site by the number of times other relevant sites linked to it on the web.
Today, PageRank has been updated and subsumed into more than 200 different algorithms, attuned to hundreds of signals, now used by Google. (The company replaced PageRank in 2005 with a newer version that could better keep up with the vast traffic that the site was attracting. Internally, it was called “PageRankNG,” ostensibly named for “next generation,” according to people familiar with the matter. In public, the company still points to PageRank—and on its website links to the original algorithm published by Messrs. Page and Brin—in explaining how search works. “The original insight and notion of using link patterns is something that we still use in our systems,” said Ms. Levin.)
By the early 2000s, spammers were overwhelming Google’s algorithms with tactics that made their sites appear more popular than they were, skewing search results. Messrs. Page and Brin disagreed over how to tackle the problem.
Mr. Brin argued against human intervention, contending that Google should deliver the most accurate results as delivered by the algorithms, and that the algorithms should only be tweaked in the most extreme cases. Mr. Page countered that the user experience was getting damaged when users encountered spam rather than useful results, according to people familiar with the matter.
Google already had been taking what the company calls “manual actions” against specific websites that were abusing the algorithm. In that process, Google engineers demote a website’s ranking by changing its specific “weighting.” For example, if a website is artificially boosted by paying other websites to link to it, a behavior that Google frowns upon, Google engineers could turn down the dial on that specific weighting. The company could also blacklist a website, or remove it altogether.
Mr. Brin still opposed making large-scale efforts to fight spam, because it involved more human intervention. Mr. Brin, whose parents were Jewish émigrés from the former Soviet Union, even personally decided to allow anti-Semitic sites that were in the results for the query “Jew,” according to people familiar with the decision. Google posted a disclaimer with results for that query saying, “Our search results are generated completely objectively and are independent of the beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google.”
Finally, in 2004, in the bathroom one day at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Mr. Page approached Ben Gomes, one of Google’s early search executives, to express support for his efforts fighting spam. “Just do what you need to do,” said Mr. Page, according to a person familiar with the conversation. “Sergey is going to ruin this f—ing company.”
Ms. Levin, the Google spokeswoman, said Messrs. Page, Brin and Gomes declined to comment.
After that, the company revised its algorithms to fight spam and loosened rules for manual interventions, according to people familiar with the matter.
Google has guidelines for changing its ranking algorithms, a grueling process called the “launch committee.” Google executives have pointed to this process in a general way in congressional testimony when asked about algorithm changes.
The process is like defending a thesis, and the meetings can be contentious, according to people familiar with them.
In part because the process is laborious, some engineers aim to avoid it if they can, one of these people said, and small changes can sometimes get pushed through without the committee’s approval. Mr. Gomes is on the committee that decides whether to approve the changes, and other senior officials sometimes attend as well.
Google’s Ms. Levin said not every algorithm change is discussed in a meeting, but “there are other processes for reviewing more straightforward launches at different levels of the organization,” such as an email review. Those reviews still involve members of the launch committee, she said.
Today, Google discloses only a few of the factors being measured by its algorithms. Known ones include “freshness,” which gives preference to recently created content for searches relating to things such as breaking news or a sports event. Another is where a user is located—if a user searches for “zoo,” Google engineers want the algorithms to provide the best zoo in the user’s area. Language signals—how meanings change when words are used together, such as April and fools—are among the most important, as they help determine what a user is actually asking for.
Other important signals have included the length of time users would stay on pages they clicked on before clicking back to Google, according to a former Google employee. Long stays would boost a page’s ranking. Quick bounce backs, indicating a site wasn’t relevant, would severely hurt a ranking, the former employee said.
Over the years, Google’s database recording this user activity has become a competitive advantage, helping cement its position in the search market. Other search engines don’t have the vast quantity of data that is available to Google, search’s market-leader.
That makes the impact of its operating decisions immense. When Pinterest Inc. filed to go public earlier this year, it said that “search engines, such as Google, may modify their algorithms and policies or enforce those policies in ways that are detrimental to us.” It added: “Our ability to appeal these actions is limited.” A spokeswoman for Pinterest declined to comment.
Search-engine optimization consultants have proliferated to try to decipher Google’s signals on behalf of large and small businesses. But even those experts said the algorithms remain borderline indecipherable. “It’s black magic,” said Glenn Gabe, an SEO expert who has spent years analyzing Google’s algorithms and tried to help DealCatcher find a solution to its drop in traffic earlier this year.
ALONG WITH ADVERTISEMENTS, Google’s own features now take up large amounts of space on the first page of results—with few obvious distinctions for users. These include news headlines and videos across the top, information panels along the side and “People also ask” boxes highlighting related questions.
Google engineers view the features as separate products from Google search, and there is less resistance to manually changing their content in response to outside requests, according to people familiar with the matter.
These features have become more prominent as Google attempts to keep users on its results page, where ads are placed, instead of losing the users as they click through to other sites. In September, about 55% of Google searches on mobile were “no-click” searches, according to research firm Jumpshot, meaning users never left the results page.
Two typical features on the results page—knowledge panels, which are collections of relevant information about people, events or other things; and featured snippets, which are highlighted results that Google thinks will contain content a user is looking for—are areas where Google engineers make changes to fix results, the Journal found.
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.”
On the auto-complete feature, Google reached a confidential settlement in France in 2012 with several outside groups that had complained it was anti-Semitic that Google was suggesting the French word for “Jew” when searchers typed in the name of several prominent politicians. Google agreed to “algorithmically mitigate” such suggestions as part of a pact that barred the parties from disclosing its terms, according to people familiar with the matter.
In recent years, Google changed its auto-complete algorithms to remove “sensitive and disparaging remarks.” The policy, now detailed on its website, says that Google doesn’t allow predictions that may be related to “harassment, bullying, threats, inappropriate sexualization, or predictions that expose private or sensitive information.”
GOOGLE HAS BECOME more open about its moderation of auto-complete but still doesn’t disclose its use of blacklists. Kevin Gibbs, who created auto-complete in 2004 when he was a Google engineer, originally developed the list of terms that wouldn’t be suggested, even if they were the most popular queries that independent algorithms would normally supply.
For example, if a user searched “Britney Spears”—a popular search on Google at the time—Mr. Gibbs didn’t want a piece of human anatomy or the description of a sex act to appear when someone started typing the singer’s name. The unfiltered results were “kind of horrible,” Mr. Gibbs said in an interview.
He said deciding what should and shouldn’t be on the list was challenging. “It was uncomfortable, and I felt a lot of pressure,” said Mr. Gibbs, who worked on auto-complete for about a year, and left the company in 2012. “I wanted to make sure it represented the world fairly and didn’t leave out any groups.”
Google still maintains lists of phrases and terms that are manually blacklisted from auto-complete, according to people familiar with the matter.
The company internally has a “clearly articulated set of policies” about what terms or phrases might be blacklisted in auto-complete, and that it follows those rules, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Blacklists also affect the results in organic search and Google News, as well as other search products, such as Web answers and knowledge panels, according to people familiar with the matter.
Google has said in congressional testimony it doesn’t use blacklists. Asked in a 2018 hearing whether Google had ever blacklisted a “company, group, individual or outlet…for political reasons,” Karan Bhatia, Google’s vice president of public policy, responded: “No, ma’am, we don’t use blacklists/whitelists to influence our search results,” according to the transcript.
Ms. Levin said those statements were related to blacklists targeting political groups, which she said the company doesn’t keep.
Google’s first blacklists date to the early 2000s, when the company made a list of spam sites that it removed from its index, one of those people said. This means the sites wouldn’t appear in search results.
Engineers known as “maintainers” are authorized to make and approve changes to blacklists. It takes at least two people to do this; one person makes the change, while a second approves it, according to the person familiar with the matter.
The Journal reviewed a draft policy document from August 2018 that outlines how Google employees should implement an anti-misinformation blacklist aimed at blocking certain publishers from appearing in Google News and other search products. The document says engineers should focus on “a publisher misrepresenting their ownership or web properties” and having “deceptive content”—that is, sites that actively aim to mislead—as opposed to those that have inaccurate content.
“The purpose of the blacklist will be to bar the sites from surfacing in any Search feature or news product sites,” the document states.
Ms. Levin said Google does “not manually determine the order of any search result.” She said sites that don’t adhere to Google News “inclusion policies” are “not eligible to appear on news surfaces or in information boxes in Search.”
SOME INDIVIDUALS and companies said changes made by the company seem ad hoc, or inconsistent. People familiar with the matter said Google increasingly will make manual or algorithmic changes that aren’t acknowledged publicly in order to maintain that it isn’t affected by outside pressure.
“It’s very convenient for us to say that the algorithms make all the decisions,” said one former Google executive.
In March 2017, Google updated the guidelines it gives contractors who evaluate search results, instructing them for the first time to give low-quality ratings to sites “created with the sole purpose of promoting hate or violence against a group of people”—something that would help adjust Google algorithms to lower those sites in search.
The next year, the company broadened the guidance to any pages that promote such hate or violence, even if it isn’t the page’s sole purpose and even if it is “expressed in polite or even academic-sounding language.”
Google has resisted entirely removing some content that outsiders complained should be blocked. In May 2018, Ignacio Wenley Palacios, a Spain-based lawyer working for the Lawfare Project, a nonprofit that funds litigation to protect Jewish people, asked Google to remove an anti-Semitic article lauding a German Holocaust denier posted on a Spanish-language neo-Nazi blog.
The company declined. In an email to Mr. Wenley Palacios, lawyers for Google contended that “while such content is detestable” it isn’t “manifestly illegal” in Spain.
Mr. Wenley Palacios then filed a lawsuit, but in the spring of this year, before the suit could be heard, he said, Google lawyers told him the company was changing its policy on such removals in Spain.
According to Mr. Wenley Palacios, the lawyers said the firm would now remove from searches conducted in Spain any links to Holocaust denial and other content that could hurt vulnerable minorities, once they are pointed out to the company. The results would still be accessible outside of Spain. He said both sides agreed to dismiss the case.
Google’s Ms. Levin described the action as a “legal removal” in accordance with local law. Holocaust denial isn’t illegal in Spain, but if it is coupled with an intent to spread hate, it can fall under Spanish criminal law banning certain forms of hate speech.
“Google used to say, ‘We don’t approve of the content, but that’s what it is,’ ” Mr. Wenley Palacios said. “That has changed dramatically.”
Business ModelHealth policy consultant Greg Williams said he helped lead a campaign to push Google to make changes that would stifle misleading results for queries such as “rehab.”
At the time, in 2017, addiction centers with spotty records were constantly showing up in search results, typically the first place family members and addicts go in search of help.
Google routed Diane Hentges several times over the last year to call centers as she desperately researched drug addiction treatment centers for her 22-year-old son, she said.
Each time she called one of the facilities listed on Google, a customer-service representative would ask for her financial information, but the representatives weren’t seemingly attached to any legitimate company.
“If you look at a place on Google, it sends you straight to a call center,” Ms. Hentges said, adding that parents who are struggling with a child with addiction “will do anything to get our child healthy. We’ll believe anything.”
After intense lobbying by Mr. Williams and others, Google changed its ad policy around such queries. But addiction industry officials also noticed a significant change to Google search results. Many searches for “rehab” or related terms began returning the website for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the national help hotline run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as the top result.
Google never acknowledged the change. Ms. Levin said that “resources are not listed because of any type of partnership” and that “we have algorithmic solutions designed to prioritize authoritative resources (including official hotlines) in our results for queries like these as well as for suicide and self-harm queries.”
A spokesman for SAMHSA said the agency had a partnership with Google.
Google’s search algorithms have been a major focus of Hollywood in its effort to fight pirated TV shows and movies.
Google received a record 1.6 million requests to remove web pages for copyright issues last year, according to the company’s published Transparency Report and a Journal analysis. Those requests pertained to more than 740 million pages, about 12 times the number of web pages it was asked to take down in 2012.
A decade ago, in concession to the industry, Google removed “download” from its auto-complete suggestions after the name of a movie or TV show, so that at least it wouldn’t be encouraging searches for pirated content.
In 2012, it applied a filter to search results that would lower the ranking of sites that received a large number of piracy complaints under U.S. copyright law. That effectively pushed many pirate sites off the front page of results for general searches for movies or music, although it still showed them when a user specifically typed in the pirate site names.
In recent months the industry has gotten more cooperation from Google on piracy in search results than at any point in the organization’s history, according to people familiar with the matter.
“Google is under great cosmic pressure, as is Facebook,” Mr. Glickman said. “These are companies that are in danger of being federally regulated to an extent that they never anticipated.”
Mr. Pichai, who became CEO of Google in 2015, is more willing to entertain complaints about the search results from outside parties than Messrs. Page and Brin, the co-founders, according to people familiar with his leadership.
Google’s Ms. Levin said Mr. Pichai’s “style of engaging and listening to feedback has not shifted. He has always been very open to feedback.”
CRITICISM ALLEGING political bias in Google’s search results has sharpened since the 2016 election.
Interest groups from the right and left have besieged Google with questions about content displayed in search results and about why the company’s algorithms returned certain information over others.
Google appointed an executive in Washington, Max Pappas, to handle complaints from conservative groups, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Pappas works with Google engineers on changes to search when conservative viewpoints aren’t being represented fairly, according to interest groups interviewed by the Journal, although that is just one part of his job.
“Conservatives need people they can go to at these companies,” said Dan Gainor, an executive at the conservative Media Research Center, which has complained about various issues to Google.
Google also appointed at least one other executive in Washington, Chanelle Hardy, to work with outside liberal groups, according to people familiar with the matter.
Ms. Levin said both positions have existed for many years. She said in general Google believes it’s “the responsible thing to do” to understand feedback from the groups and said Google’s algorithms and policies don’t attempt to make any judgment based on the political leanings of a website.
Mr. Pappas declined to comment, and Ms. Hardy didn’t reply to a request for comment.
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Over the past year, abortion-rights groups have complained about search results that turned up the websites of what are known as “crisis pregnancy centers,” organizations that counsel women against having abortions, according to people familiar with the matter.
One of the complaining organizations was Naral Pro-Choice America, which tracks the activities of anti-abortion groups through its opposition research department, said spokeswoman Kristin Ford.
Naral complained to Google and other tech platforms that some of the ads, posts and search results from crisis pregnancy centers are misleading and deceptive, she said. Some of the organizations claimed to offer abortions and then counseled women against it. “They do not disclose what their agenda is,” Ms. Ford said.
In June, Google updated its advertising policies related to abortion, saying that advertisers must state whether they provide abortions or not, according to its website. Ms. Ford said Naral wasn’t told in advance of the policy change.
Ms. Levin said Google didn’t implement any changes with regard to how crisis pregnancy centers rank for abortion queries.
The Journal tested the term “abortion” in organic search results over 17 days in July and August. Thirty-nine percent of all results on the first page had the hostname www.plannedparenthood.org, the site of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the nonprofit, abortion-rights organization.
By comparison, 14% of Bing’s first page of search results and 16% of DuckDuckGo’s first page of results were from Planned Parenthood.
Ms. Levin said Google doesn’t have any particular ranking implementations aimed at promoting Planned Parenthood.
- Abortion - Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion 100%
- Abortion Information | Information About Your Options https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/abortion 100%
- An Overview of Abortion Laws | Guttmacher Institute https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/overview-abortion-laws 100%
- What facts about abortion do I need to know? - Planned Parenthood https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/abortion/considering-abortion/what-facts-about-abortion-do-i-need-know 67%
- In-Clinic Abortion Procedure | Abortion Methods - Planned Parenthood https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/abortion/in-clinic-abortion-procedures 52%
- National Abortion Federation: Home https://prochoice.org/ 44%
- Abortion | Center for Reproductive Rights https://reproductiverights.org/our-issues/abortion 38%
- What Happens During an In-Clinic Abortion? - Planned Parenthood https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/abortion/in-clinic-abortion-procedures/what-happens-during-an-in-clinic-abortion 38%
- Abortion - Pros & Cons - ProCon.org https://abortion.procon.org/ 100%
- Abortion - The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/topic/subject/abortion 100%
- Abortion Information | Information About Your Options https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/abortion 100%
- Abortion: Get Facts About the Procedure and Statistics https://www.emedicinehealth.com/abortion/article_em.htm 100%
- AbortionFacts.com – Information on Abortion You Can Use https://www.abortionfacts.com/ 100%
- Abortion - Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion 99%
- Abortion | Medical Abortion | MedlinePlus https://medlineplus.gov/abortion.html 98%
- Abortion Procedures During First, Second and Third Trimester https://americanpregnancy.org/unplanned-pregnancy/abortion-procedures/ 76%
Google has said repeatedly it doesn’t make decisions based on politics, and current and former employees told the Journal they haven’t seen evidence of political bias. And yet, they said, Google’s shifting policies on interference—and its lack of transparency about them—inevitably force employees to become arbiters of what is acceptable, a dilemma that opens the door to charges of bias or favoritism.
Google’s Ms. Levin declined to comment.
DEMANDS FROM GOVERNMENTS for changes have grown rapidly since 2016.
From 2010 to 2018, Google fielded such requests from countries including the U.S. to remove 685,000 links from what Google calls web search. The requests came from courts or other authorities that said the links broke local laws or should be removed for other reasons.
Nearly 78% of those removal requests have been since the beginning of 2016, according to reports that Google publishes on its website. Google’s ultimate actions on those requests weren’t disclosed.
Russia has been by far the most prolific, demanding the removal of about 255,000 links from search last year, three-quarters of all government requests for removal from Google search in that period, the data show. Nearly all of the country’s requests came under an information-security law Russia put into effect in late 2017, according to a Journal examination of disclosures in a database run by the Berkman Klein Center.
Google said the Russian law doesn’t allow it to disclose which URLs were requested to be removed. A person familiar with the matter said the removal demands are for content ruled illegal in Russia for a variety of reasons, such as for promoting drug use or encouraging suicide.
Requests can include demands to remove links to information the government defines as extremist, which can be used to target political opposition, the person said.
Google, whose staff reviews the requests, at times declines those that appear focused on political opposition, the person said, adding that in those cases, it tries not to draw attention to its decisions to avoid provoking Russian regulators.
The approach has led to stiff internal debate. On one side, some Google employees say that the company shouldn’t cooperate at all with takedown requests from countries such as Russia or Turkey. Others say it is important to follow the laws of countries where they are based.
“There is a real question internally about whether a private company should be making these calls,” the person said.
Google’s Ms. Levin said, “Maximizing access to information has always been a core principle of Search, and that hasn’t changed.”
Google’s culture of publicly resisting demands to change results has diminished, current and former employees said. A few years ago, the company dismantled a global team focused on free-speech issues that, among other things, publicized the company’s legal battles to fight changes to search results, in part because Google had lost several of those battles in court, according to a person familiar with the change.
“Free expression was no longer a winner,” the person said.
—Keach Hagey, Andrea Fuller, Rob Copeland, Jim Oberman and Mythili Sankara contributed to this article.
—Illustrations by Martin Tognola
—Graphics by Elliot Bentley and Kara Dapena
The Tyrannical Rise of Google: Information Theft, Search Engine Manipulation, and the Complete Destruction of Free Thought
By Greg Holt
“This writer will say this – if there is to be an Orwellian 1984 society in America, and I believe it is already happening – Google will be at the forefront of those leading the way and cashing in on it. You can take that to the bank.”It’s long been known that despite Google’s denial of manipulating their own search engine, they have been doing just that for years now. The monster information indexer was even designing an oppressive information search engine for China – for a hefty price of course. Google’s “Dragonfly” was shut down after much public outcry, but you can bet that it is securely preserved in the Google vault somewhere.
Michael Krieger of Liberty Blitzkrieg makes a very uncomfortable but also very true observation: the simple man steals a sandwich and goes to jail. Google steals the medical information of millions of people, and their earnings potential rises.
You, a peasant, steals a sandwich ➡️ Jail
Google, a tech giant, steals the medical histories of 50 million Americans ➡️ We are raising our earning estimates for the current quarter. https://t.co/BvUu55YLAX
— Michael Krieger (@LibertyBlitz) November 14, 2019
From Zero Hedge:
“First, we learned Google is in the process of secretly sucking up the personalized healthcare data of up to 50 million Americans without the permission of patients or doctors.
This was followed by a detailed report in the Wall Street Journal outlining how the search giant is meddling with its algorithms far more aggressively than executives lead people to believe.”
So crime does pay after all – after these revelations, Alphabet the parent company of Google, – saw their stock value increase.
“It’s important to note that while much of the recent focus on tech giants revolves around market dominance and anti-competitiveness, the real danger posed is far more extensive. Particularly since the post-election “panic of 2016,” these companies have begun to more earnestly morph into digital information gatekeepers in the name of empire and the national security state.
Day by day, tweaked algorithm by tweaked algorithm, and with each new thought-criminal banished from major digital platforms, we’ve seen not only dissident views marginalized, but we’ve also lost a capacity to access information we’re looking for should tech company CEOs or their national security state partners deem it inappropriate.
The powers that be have determined the internet [sic] permitted too much freedom of thought and opinion, so the tech giants stand ready to bluntly throw the hammer down in order to reverse that trend and regain narrative control. The algorithm will be used to get you in line, and if you don’t comply, the algorithm will destroy you.”
Google has amassed tremendous power and influence. If Google does not want you to see or find something, well, you won’t. Most people will only go so far in searching for information and will just accept what they find. There is a serious lack of discernment and logical thinking in this country. Information gleaned from Google, or the national media, or even social media – is all to often accepted at face value. This writer is here to tell you, that is an extremely dangerous practice – and one that Google anticipates that We the People will perform.
Google can and does get away with controlling the narrative. Search results are changed, some things are hidden, and everything you do on Google’s search – is tracked and filed away in a database. If you believe otherwise, well, you haven’t been paying attention. This goes way beyond conspiracy and has dived right into confirmed fact.
For instance, abortion is made to look good and morally acceptable. The sites that show the truth, including with pictures are buried. The number one result in an abortion search on Google? Planned Parenthood. The Democrats are painted as the good guys, while anyone who opposes them is deemed to be anti-American, unsafe, an agitator, and opposed to what benefits society.
Websites that Google deems as anti-liberal, anti-establishment are buried in the search results or even blacklisted.
When George Orwell penned 1984, he had no idea Google would come along. But Google is the very definition of Orwellian.
And don’t forget – the heavily censored YouTube is owned and controlled by Google.
One last point – if Google is willing to help China oppress and control their people for the sake of money, do you seriously believe that Google will not do the same to the American people if they can turn a buck doing it? I would say Google is already doing this, right along with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube among others. Don’t forget this either: the national media supports all of these oppressive Big Tech giants.
This writer will say this – if there is to be an Orwellian 1984 society in America, and I believe it is already happening – Google will be at the forefront of those leading the way and cashing in on it. You can take that to the bank.