Google Changes Algorithms Under Pressure From Business, Government

US
A Google logo is seen at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, U.S., November 1, 2018. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Google manually tinkers with search results at the behest of outside influences, contrary to the mammoth company’s public statements that its algorithms operate free of any editorial input from its employees, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation.

The twenty-year-old company’s founding philosophy of “organizing the world’s information,” appears to have been compromised in recent years as Google has increasingly allowed business concerns, special interest groups, and governments to have a say in controlling search results, the investigation found.

Google reportedly amplifies big business over small business and promotes the websites of Facebook and Amazon. At one point, Google also altered its algorithms to favor international e-commerce company eBay Inc., in direct contradiction to the search engine’s insistence that it never makes such moves.

The search engine behemoth also manually modifies news results and downplays controversial topics such as abortion or immigration in auto-complete suggestions. Google keeps blacklists of certain websites to eliminate or hide, including some that are not illegal or spam and do not contain copyright infringement.

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Google employees are allowed to lobby for particular changes in search results, including the topic of vaccinations and autism.

Last year, Google altered its algorithms more than 3,200 times, compared to only 2,400 times in 2017 and around 500 changes back in 2010, the investigation found

Google executives have testified the opposite under oath to Congress and elsewhere, saying the company does not allow its algorithms to be tainted by outside forces and does not keep blacklists of particular sites.

“We do not use human curation to collect or arrange the results on a page,” Google said in a statement.

Google pushed back on the Journal investigation’s conclusions as well.

“We do today what we have done all along, provide relevant results from the most reliable sources available,” a spokesperson said.

Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc. boasts a $30 billion annual profit.

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