Although Google denies that they alter search results, investigation has shown that Google engineers and contractors do indeed tweak algorithms.
These tweaks include demoting spam sites, maintaining blacklists, and favouring search rankings of their advertisers.
This contradicts Google’s claims of being transparent, and may give some credence to conservative claims of bias and censorship, particularly on their YouTube platform.
Google Subject to Antitrust Probe
Google’s business is subject to a probe by antitrust regulators to determine if it has used its market position to suppress competition. This probe is to protect the interests of the consumer, and may be expanded to Google’s search and Android businesses.
Google Has Measures in Place to Ensure Transparency
Google has tried to ensure transparency by implementing Search rater guidelines, policies for special features in Search such as Autocomplete and valid legal removals.
One measure, Project Owl is meant to address misinformation, and any changes made are meant to benefit users, not commercial interests.
Google has also countered that an article resulting from the investigation contained old and incomplete anecdotes which no longer applied to their current processes and policies, leading to the wrong impression on what Google is doing to improve Search.
Google contends that it is responsible and has a rigorous evaluation process that it uses when making any changes.
Search Algorithm Controversy is Nothing New
As early as the mid-2000’s Google had difficulties over search algorithms. Two Google co-founders disagreed with how the search engine should handle spam and hateful content. One believed that there should be no interference, while the other felt there should be intervention.
Ultimately, Google changed its algorithms so they could fight spam, along with more manual intervention.
The Case for Bias
A conservative news source posted a video that was less than complimentary to a Google co-founder and Google’s CEO. When searched, this video came up in the 12th page of search results, making it appear to be intentionally suppressed.
Google staffers noted it on an internal message board, and soon the video ranked higher in search results. A spokesperson said that reports of unexpected search results are investigated in cases such as this one, so the higher ranking could be because an investigation was made.
Spam Site Blacklists
Google maintained spam site blacklists, and some terms were kept from auto-completing when searching. Google insists that the technology is not meant to affect political outcomes.
Algorithm Changes Benefit a Major Advertiser
Google changed its algorithm and a major advertiser, eBay, suffered a $200 million decrease in revenue. eBay found out it was due to a lowered ranking in some of their high traffic pages, and considered pulling its quarterly advertising spend from Google. That would cost Google about $30 million.
eBay didn’t pull the money, but did start a pressure campaign on the executives, which led to Google agreeing to up the ranking of those lowered eBay pages.
50 state attorneys general who are currently involved with a Google probe plan to expand their investigation to include Google’s search and Android business.