> The email traffic, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, shows that employees proposed ways to “leverage” search functions and take steps to counter what they considered to be “islamophobic, algorithmically biased results from search terms ‘Islam’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Iran’, etc.” and “prejudiced, algorithmically biased search results from search terms ‘Mexico’, ‘Hispanic’, ‘Latino’, etc.”
So, employees saw that the existing algorithm was inappropriately prioritising prejudiced results, and discussed tweaking the algorithm accordingly. I don't see what's controversial about that, unless your understanding of Google is so basic that you really think results are calculated by a magic computer program in the sky. It's always been programmed by humans, within various parameters. It isn't objective and it never has been.
Now, is it worth discussing the enormous power Google has over people's perceptions as a result of their market dominance? Absolutely. But using a headline like that just plays into conspiracy theory.
I can well believe that those employees believed those results were 'prejudiced' and 'inappropriately prioritized', but I would point out that you are merely redescribing the WSJ's claims in different words and at no point have you offered a counter-argument or shown evidence that their discussed tweaks would have been non-partisan.
> The Google emails were written on Sunday, Jan. 29, two days after Mr. Trump signed the first version of his travel order, which generally restricted immigration to the U.S. from several majority-Muslim countries. One of the emails, from an employee of the Search Product Marketing division, explained that there was a “large brainstorm” going throughout the company’s marketing division over how to respond. “Overall idea: Leverage search to highlight important organizations to donate to, current news, etc. to keep people abreast of how they can help as well as the resources available for immigrations [sic] or people traveling,” the email says.
> “Can we launch an ephemeral experience that includes Highlights, up-to-date info from the US State Dept, DHS, links to donate to ACLU, etc?” the email added.
> Several officials responded favorably to the overall idea. “We’re absolutely in…Anything you need,” one wrote.
> “To the extent of my knowledge, we’d be breaching precedent if we only gave Highlights access to organizations that support a certain view of the world in a time of political conflict,” the public-affairs executive said. “Is that accurate? If so, would we be willing to open access to highlights to [organizations] that…actually support the ban?”
Maybe not so surprising after the TGIF post-election video.
It sounds like adding political content to the search, not removing it.
I personally find it hard to believe that the average Google employee doesn't know and didn't, by that time, know, that Google's algorithms -- which introduce a selection pressure for content that causes outrage (in the name of greater "engagement", and that's been pretty thoroughly demonstrated) over content which contains facts -- were promoting awful things.
I find it very easy to believe that the average Google employee simply didn't care about that up until the moment it started affecting their friends and colleagues (the "Muslim ban" would have impacted some Google employees' ability to travel). Up until then, "politics" was something that happened to other people, and so they didn't have to bother about it.
I could ignore politics because the existing political dynamics worked for me and the people I cared about. This was tenable for me because the US was for decades controlled by centrists who agreed on a lot. But as XKCD graphs nicely, the era of centrism was basically 1940-1980:
After that, the center-right block in the House steadily diminished, and was extinct by 2008. As many of the Republican Never Trump folks make clear, their party has become unrecognizable to them. Previous conservative standards like balanced budgets, rule of law, and personal virtue have become irrelevant there. It has shifted from a positive-sum game to a zero- or negative-sum game of pure political dominance.
As much as I enjoyed my youthful obliviousness and above-it-all sense of superiority, those are dead. The post-war political infrastructure has broken down, and restoring it is the work of decades. However much we want to ignore politics, it has stopped ignoring us.
The autocomplete results were too honest. Sexual terms are more popular and that bestiality result has been proven to be the more popular site.
I'd argue that an algorithm which is only able to do a search for 'most common query starting with" ignoring all context is a terrible algorithm.
Maybe the vanilla term isn't so vanilla if those terms are being used that way on the most popular sites.
> the existing algorithm was inappropriately prioritising prejudiced results, and discussed tweaking the algorithm accordingly
This, to me, is perfectly described by the headline. The only difference is that you're applying the value judgments to the results by calling them inappropriate and prejudiced (which is fine). But if Google employees feel that results that support the travel ban are inappropriate or prejudiced, well then, yeah, they were discussing tweaking the algorithm to counter the travel ban. And it seems they were well aware they were doing this, and that it was fraught with peril, and decided against it, which I applaud them for. I don't see how you can describe the headline as absurdly inaccurate though, it's completely accurate.
There was a TED talk covering this titled "We're building a dystopia just to make people click on ads".
It talks about how the same ad serving infrastructure that can segment populations into whether they are likely to buy X, can also segment people by political affiliation. Then you can simply target them and remind them to vote on election day (and it actually works and statistically affects voter turnout/results).
It is kind of crazy to think that the next election might be won by whoever can make a deal with Google/Facebook to target the precise swing voters they need. Facebook/google might even do the kingmaking themselves if they can figure out how to do it without backlash/leaks.
On election day run get out and vote adwords ads for terms that target favourable voting blocks
Or did the sarcasm fly right over my head?
I think a lot of people use this fallacious call to "give both sides an un-'biased' chance" to derail discussion in a very intellectually dishonest way when we should be reasoning about things without turning them into political arguments.
However, there are many subjects where there is no single correct way to do things. How do we manage our culture? How does our society handle immigration properly? Should we promote certain ideals or family values? For these issues, if you _don't_ give both sides an un-biased chance, then you are picking sides.
Now Google leadership doesn't just get to be wealthy, they get to manipulate how everyone else sees the world, with no limits or accountability, because hey everything is biased right?
It may sound good because they agree with you on this particular issue.
But this justification applies to any other government or corporation who can manage to seize the reins of technological power. You're making a memetic weapon that, soon, will be turned against you.
No. Neutrality is a real thing and it should be upheld as a serious goal and principle. Especially when we're taking about a group with such insane amounts of unjustified and undemocratic control over other people. We need to do everything we can culturally to make that influence less unequal.
It’s messy, it’s work, but what are the alternatives that respects the 1st amendment? Just hand-waving some claims about “de facto monopolies” is a non-starter imo. How do we improve the situation without pretending that a given social medial or advertise company has to be regulated to death, and in a way that doesn’t just amount to, “Keep it biased, but it needs to be my preferred bias.”
This is like being mad at a company for using L1 regularization
I'd argue the same thing about political parties that directly benefit from less educated citizens, defunding education. Or, political parties that directly benefit from less minorities voting, passing voter restriction laws.
Considering that the same party participating in both of the above is precisely the same party arguing for... Well I'm not sure exactly what, some kind of "fair time" thing for Google and Facebook? When we can't even get that for our talk radio shows anymore? Forget about it.
If we go capitalist free market, we go full fucking capitalist free market. If conservatives are worried Google is biased against them, they should make a conservative Google.
Where does that come from? America does not have a problem funding education. It loves to invest in education. It's the return on investment that seems to be missing.
The administration’s new “America First” budget, released Thursday, follows through on this promise by slashing funds for the Education Department by 13.5 percent, or $9.2 billion.
Education funding at local levels can be pathetically bad. So sure, someone can look at the doe and say "that's a bloated budget!" But the local politicians sure aren't helping. Why do teachers have to buy notebooks for their kids out of their own pocket? Why do so many teachers scrape by with 30, 40k/year salaries in places where that's definitely not affordable? These problems are real and they are happening in this country. Time just did a great piece on it, I highly recommend it.
Really, I recommend the times peice. A good fix would be to stop tying school funding to property values.
That's not the problem, we know it, they know it, everyone knows. What is upsetting people is the pretense of them being unbiased. Now in this case they just discussed and it seems never implemented these measures.
Come to think of it maybe they should have implemented those measures. Maybe they should stop pretending to be unbiased and embrace the bias. It's not like anyone would be surprised by it. People were shocked about that leaked meeting video where Google executive were crying after the election results and referred to the loss as "we lost". But it shouldn't have been that surprising, it was exactly what I expected would be in the video.
> This is no different.
They took a political issue wanted to insert themselves in the middle of it by manipulating what facts people see regarding that topic. Now most here agree here with their position, so this doesn't bother us too much. But I don't really this as "the same as PageRank".
I'm guessing that users searching for "Mexico" are not overwhelmingly interested in diatribes of racial inferiority. An algorithm that heavily returns such results is obviously broken.
Google's job is in no way to provide you with the results you are looking for. If showing you sites you are not interested in, keeps you engaged longer/sells more ads they will.
Wouldn't Google want to study that possible source of bias and fix it, or if not, explain it to the public or to the Googlers who saw it in the first place?
sorry, you're straight up wrong here:
> “We find this result offensive, but the objectivity of our ranking function prevents us from making any changes,”
the results were not manually massaged for political reasons in the past. i don't have as much confidence in that remaining the case these days, though.
Really? You don't see what's controversial about a pro-life employee seeing pro-choice results and deciding to alter the search results? Or what if a republican employee decided to scrub prejudiced anti-republican results and pro-democrat results? What about a chinese employee seeing prejudice "tiannamen square" results and deciding it needed to be removed? You don't like prejudiced results but you are okay with prejudiced google employees creating prejudiced results for you?
> It isn't objective and it never has been.
Actually it was. Google of the 2000s was nothing like what it is today. Google used to be fairly agnostic and served the results honestly when they were desperate to gain market share. Now they are intentionally altering results for a political agenda. That is very dangerous.
But you are right. The headline is incorrect. It should be "Prejudiced Google Workers Discussed Tweaking Search Function..."
Google used to be an honest representation of the internet. Now it's just a prejudiced representation of their prejudiced employees.
> Absolutely. But using a headline like that just plays into conspiracy theory.
Stop it. It isn't a conspiracy theory just because you don't like the truth. We have actual video footage of google leaders and their employees openly talking about manipulating the public. We know they tried to manipulate the 2016 election. They are pretty open about their agenda.
It's one of the reasons why I use duckduckgo. Better search results and less spying and less data collecting.
> What about a chinese employee seeing prejudice "tiannamen square" results
Who is disagreeing with facts. It's the interpretation that people disagree with.
"Tiannamen square massacre" vs "Bringing order to tiannamen square"?
I believe all interpretations should be allowed. You believe biased google employees should get to choose.
So you are for biased chinese employees altering google search results then?
Inappropriate to whom? Google search reflects relevance and to tweak the results would be to replace relevant results with biased ones. In the emails they admit that it would be an act of political activism.
It also frankly looks like they're already doing it at scale for Google News specifically, vs general web search results.
Did you even read what Damore wrote? It is neither sexist nor a rant.
Seeing as he didn't have science to back up his claims.
>He had a singular reason to write it, I argue a sexist one.
He specifically stated his objective was to help Google with its own diversity and gender equality goals.
>Seeing as he didn't have science to back up his claims.
I find it increasingly fascinating that in the response to Damore's memo people continually provide evidence that this echo chamber does indeed exist, and that people actually are reading different things from the same text.
Can they? As I recall, many were arguing the exact opposite when Brendan Eich decided to voice some political opinions during the 2014 elections.
Or is it just that CEOs can have political opinions only when they happen to agree with yours?
Arguing some humans should have less rights than others is imo not a political opinion.
Politics is the debate of honest ideas and philosophies regarding governing. Arguing whether a given right should be granted to certain groups of people based on race, sex, creed, or sexual orientation is not about governing.
It's not? What is it then? Where do you think rights come from? Rights only exist insofar as government guarantees those rights. I only have the right to life because the are police and armed forces who guarantee that right to me. I only have the right to liberty because the Constitution, via the fourth, fifth, eighth and fourteenth amendments, restricts what the government can do to me.
The question of who does or does not get rights, and how those rights are adjudicated when they conflict is an inherently political question. It is the root of a philosophical debate that goes back to Ancient Greece. To claim it is not political is to remove the all questions of ethics from politics. It is to reduce politics to a mere math problem, solvable by technocrats.
You have the right to life because you are alive.
Throughout history, farmers haven't really fucked with each other.
If I'm stuck on a deserted island, dying of thirst, will my right to life grant me a rainstorm? If I'm stranded in the Alaskan wilderness, dying of hypothermia, is my right to life going to magically conjure a fire? If a warlord invades my village, and puts a sword at my throat, will my right to life stay his hand? Every right is an obligation insofar as there has to be an enforcement mechanism to guarantee that right. That enforcement mechanism is government, governments are controlled by politics, and thus the question of who has which rights is inherently political.
> Throughout history, farmers haven't really fucked with each other
The actual history of the world begs to differ. The inception of agriculture is contemporaneous with the inception of large scale wars for a reason. Hunter gatherer bands may fight, but their fights are usually small scale, both because the bands themselves are small (not very many resources to fight with) and because they have the option of moving (nothing worth fighting for). Farming communities, with their higher population densities, both have the resources to fight larger scale battles, and reason to fight.
Everything else is hate and shouldn’t be allowed.
Are you suggesting it's the same ballpark as saying "I don't like the current elected official?"
Have concerns about immigration levels? You hate immigrants and that’s wrong.
Worried about crime? You hate minorities and that’s wrong.
Worried about government spending on welfare? You hate the poor and that’s wrong.
Practically, this means that anyone with wide enough influence can directly affect democratic outcomes, which defeats the entire purpose, and the level of influence possible these days is unprecedented.
So regardless of what actually did or did not happen, the fact that a few companies ARE in a position to wield this kind of influential power should strike fear into the heart of every free citizen of every democratic nation.
But I agree it is terrifying that there are companies devoted to an overt political stance that have vast reach and even monopolies in many markets like Sinclair  and others 
I don't find it obvious at all. Do you have any evidence to suggest that this is indeed the case? Why would those terms/results show up in the first place if only few are looking them up?
(Unfortunately, I would say this is even likely to be true of topics for which there is, in fact, an objectively true answer, like climate change, which many of the results will be opposing.)
>Do you have any evidence to suggest that this is indeed the case?
Only my apparently overly optimistic understanding of human nature.
Indeed, Fox News, Britebart, and friends are terrifying.
Also, if journalists are reluctant to be identified as Republican, perhaps the Republican party should do some soul searching about why this is so.
Assuming there’s no bias is naive.
Note that I'm not taking a position on those implications, but am saying according to your logic the above is sound.
Also according to your logic Dems should do soul searching because lumberjacks and truck drivers are mostly Republicans...
(Tweaking the algorithm to get bot-propogated t_d content off the front page doesn't count, it's a different subforum)
Brietbart is an entirely different category than Fox news. It will publish straight up conspiracy theories with no evidence. I'm talking "moon landing didn't happen" level shit. It's an insult to tabloids, to call it a tabloids.
Fox News is so comically biased to compare it to CNN is dishonest. CNN has liberal bias, sure, but it doesnt sink to the level of claiming Hillary Clinton had Seth rich assassinated (https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2017/may/23...) or completely makes shit up about supreme court candidates whole-cloth (https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2016/mar/18...).
Sure, they're gonna spend a lot of airtime on the "kavanaugh allegedly raped a girl in high school" story, or when the president says some messed up ish they're gonna go ahead and play that clip again and again, but that is a far cry from outright lying, which fox news does again and again, and which Breitbart does every breath.
Read about the leftward movement of Politifact here : https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/politifact/
This does not mean Politifact cannot be trusted, but it potentually makes analysis like yours less accurate
I believe this is proof that CNN lies less than Fox.
To convince me otherwise, you'd need to put the work in that politifact has done here, and compile your own list of statements, analyzed for truthfulness, from each organization.
My email is in my profile if you ever do this work. I'm happy to be convinced.
Wow, so we need to look at each and every statement they have made and analyze their truthfulness before we can conclude which one lies more?
I take it you have never heard of statistics and sampling.
Do you have an example? I visit that site extremely rarely. And then only via a link to a story that looks reasonable on it's face.
CNN has spent over a year covering the Russia investigation, breathlessly accepting any shred of hearsay that could possibly maybe implicate Trump in collusion, however it seems now that there has been no collusion whatsoever and the entire issue is fake. CNN has been pushing nonsense this entire time!
In fact I've watched both Fox and CNN my entire life and Fox seems to me much less biased than CNN as of late.
But its journalists don't lie at nearly the same frequency as fox's
Here's a very simple comparison, persue at your leisure:
Agreed, i didn't say otherwise and i didn't group it with other three websites. As an outsider, i have seen tons of people who are non-liberal (either centrist or right wing) get dismissed immediately even though there are times when the argument makes sense. Also, it filled with Russian hacking.
I never compared the three news sites. Parent point first two, i just said it's not like CNN is completely neutral as well. Also remember this is the same channel that didn't want you to download wikileaks and only listen to what they say. Did CNN's political commentator not actually pass questions to Hillary prior to the debate? How is that not biased?
I also completely agree with your points about Fox news and Breitbart and i do agree they are worse than CNN but we aren't on a binary scale. You can't just blame Fox news and Brietbart and completely ignore CNN (which the op did).
It may have always been that way in the US. From his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin controlled a newspaper and founded secret societies for wealthy business owners to collude together while getting business for his printing press from the government.
vs the past when we had the single newspaper, the single encyclopedia, their priest, the three TV networks, or the town gossip mill?
> only works if each participant has independent knowledge
So, can you name a time that this was more possible than it is now?
The other has to do with journalists following their biases in reporting things --an agenda that is not dictated by outside third parties, but one of following an implicit ideology.
1) You might be interested in the book The Influential Mind. While she doesn't come out and say it directly, the bizarre state of our digital lives (i.e., social media) has quite a bit of reasonable (scientific) explanation.
2) The irony of the homogenized "wisdom" is that these same entities are personalizing so much that the shared / collective experience is being diminished. Perhaps it's easier to build mono-minded on top of a disheveled and disorganized foundation?
What precisely are a few emails from employees supposed to show about the company? I mean, seriously WSJ. What if some employees sent around emails saying they approved of cannibalism, would people be like "Google is about to start eating humans!"
And in my experience as a current employee, it sure seems so. Just as someone who left years ago can juice attention and their job prospects by writing a Medium.com post or making a YouTube video referencing once working at Google, it's increasingly tedious to see anything done internally, most of which is kind of boring, reported with excitement.
But again, congratulations to whatever dumb leaker wanted to make a point out of some random email this week.
I work at Google, although I have no idea about this particular situation. Pick any major event, internal or external. If you look around company forums (mailing lists, Google+, memes, etc) you will invariably see 10+ people voicing opinions that are dumb if not outright illegal.
It doesn't mean that Google is ever going to _do_ any of those things. It's the result of having 100,000 people who all think they're smart and are never told they can't speak out.
So I would not be at all surprised if a few of the 100,000 employees suggested tweaking search to do X or Y. But I can tell you without even looking that there was not a plan for doing so by anyone with the power to change anything. By the time you get to a design doc, reason tends to prevail.
My hypothetical example was random employees at the MTV campus emailing ideas to influence US SERPs to propagate their PoV on a political issue they have an interest in.
What's even more absurd is that people have the gall to defend this behavior on HN.
H1b and other travel is still a mess. My old recruiter friends back in Texas are just about as conservative as possible but they're still pissed off about all the random executive orders surrounding immigration, it's making their jobs a lot harder.
Hard to even say what this means because WSJ is sitting on the actual email chain so they can editorialize it in any way they please.
This is a carefully worded statement, because the fact is, Google does manipulate search results for its business purposes. I expect most companies to follow their corporate ethos and justify change as its expedient for their business. In Google's case, they may even feel a change is a moral imperative, without realizing how subjective that is. I think what people need to recognize is, that Google isn't above these problems, buyer beware.
For U.S. , the threshold for conspiracy against the U.S. government is similar or lower. Item (2) "they interfere or obstruct legitimate Government activity" sounds a lot like what the Google employees were doing.
It is a dangerous day when a monopolistic corporation like Google can casually insert their own biases into search results, because they feel they know best.
Is Google a private company, and do private companies have the freedom to do what they want? Generally yes, but in the case of companies like Google that act as the gatekeepers of information to billions of people, the values of free speech AND free thought must supercede the the freedom of private Enterprise.
(For now. Why does this work, anyway?)
I'm guessing outline.com has a subscription to WSJ, and can therefore share the content?
The email traffic, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, shows that employees proposed ways to “leverage” search functions and take steps to counter what they considered to be “islamophobic, algorithmically biased results from search terms ‘Islam’, ‘Muslim’, ’Iran’, etc.” and “prejudiced, algorithmically biased search results from search terms `Mexico’, `Hispanic’, `Latino’, etc.”
The email chain, while sprinkled with cautionary notes about engaging in political activity, suggests employees considered ways to harness the company’s vast influence on the internet in response to the travel ban. Google said none of the ideas discussed were implemented.
"These emails were just a brainstorm of ideas, none of which were ever implemented,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement. “Google has never manipulated its search results or modified any of its products to promote a particular political ideology—not in the current campaign season, not during the 2016 election, and not in the aftermath of President Trump’s executive order on immigration. Our processes and policies would not have allowed for any manipulation of search results to promote political ideologies.”
Next week Attorney General Jeff Sessions is scheduled to meet with state attorneys general to discuss concerns of anticonservative bias. Conservatives recently expressed anger after Breitbart News released a video of a 2016 company meeting in which Google senior managers lamented Mr. Trump’s election victory.
Things are way too polarized in the US right now to discuss politics at work. It's not just right vs left, it's also maybe you aren't right/left enough for your boss/peers.
Sure, you hear jokes about the President and you know who they voted for, but never somebody using a political argument to drive business decisions.
That’s just weird and you’re asking for an HR nightmare.
One counter example, every atttempt at censorship and media bias works oppositely. Look at yahoo article content, tilts quite a bit left and the comments are significantly right wing. Makes them more distrustful of true news.