:: Monday, November 28, 2005 ::
Is Google manipulating search results?
Because the Internet has enabled everyone - and I mean everyone on this planet - a real voice in public policy, the dictatorial ruling classes around the globe are feeling the heat. This is why the UN would love to get their bloody, conniving hands on the Internet - the free flow of information threatens their private little kleptocracy-club. Of course, selective editing or filtering of the content of the Internet by certain countries, like China and Saudi Arabia, has been going on for some time but that's a far cry from allowing centralized control of the root servers at the heart of the internet by an entity as demonstrably incapable, corrupt and buffoonish as the UN.
More surprising, the unabashedly liberal founders of Google have been accused of altering search rankings, and deleting content that doesn't necessarily fit their particular philosophical viewpoint - a far more dangerous precedent because this simple work-around proves control of the Internet's root servers isn't required for the control of the flow of information! Should someone wish to prevent the unwashed masses from accessing information deemed politically incorrect a simple tweak of Google's ranking algorythms can render entire genres of infomation invisible with the click of a mouse.
In fact, Google admits removing controversial content such as racial hate sites and although somewhat arbitrary [there are currently 3,640,000 kiddie-porn sites listed on Google!] this type of "editing" seems reasonable. But what is disturbing here is that because Google is a corporate entity it isn't compelled to provide an explanation of their criteria for deleting websites from its database [or relegating "offending" sites into search-engine purgatory] and have been less than forthcoming in stating publicly what sites have been redacted and why. As an example, researchers found that a sample query on Google-USA differed significantly from the same query on Google-France and Germany. When confronted with the finding, Google spokesman Nate Tyler said: "each site was removed only after a specific complaint from the government of the country concerned."
Oh really? What other "specific complaints" have governments registered with Google? Nobody knows.
As the depth and reach of the Internet increases over time, those who have reason to fear it's extraordinary capabilities will likely exert pressure to gain editorial control - particularly in times of political unrest. Of course, this is the very point when it's power is most useful to the people and conversely, most threatening to the political elite. What mechanism prevents Google from caving to the whims of powerful but corrupt governments in the future?
At this juncture, it does not appear Google is meddling with content in any wholesale fashion but it does look as though they're tinkering. As a publicly traded company, they owe the general public and their shareholders a policy paper stating explicitly what sites they are blocking and why. This statement should also include a transparent, honest, timely and public release of all requests by governments and government officials to censor sites the country in question is urging Google to block. As it stands now, nobody has a clue how much "filtering" the most popular search-engine in the world is doing.
An internet without Google is now impossible to imagine - it's so effective and useful it's become an essential feature - an extension really - of human cognition. As the web matures and nodes are added, the search component can only gain in power. It's hard to imagine how it might evolve in, say, a decade. If Google should ultimately edge out all contenders in the search-engine wars and become the default tool for the retrieval and dissemination of news and information - the singular and solitary source of access to the world's collective intelligence - it's keepers must leave their political ideology and financial conflicts of interest behind and develop and implement demonstrable safeguards that insure it's future integrity.
Related: CNET article announcing the awarding of patents pertaining to Google's search technologies.
More: Did you know Google maintains a Blog? Yes, it's a GoogleBlog and I can't believe I just wrote that.
More: Everybody loves Google Maps; this person is obsessed with them.
More: Here's the unofficial Google Weblog and Xooglers, a web log maintained by Google's former marketing director [a fascinating chronicle of the heady startup days when Google was little more than an idea].
More: Googling Google: 745 MILLION hits in under 1/3 of a second [astonishing].
:: Max 3:07 PM [+] ::