- https://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/06/readers-and-expert...
 - https://www.huffpost.com/entry/google-privacy_b_1962827
 - https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/may/15/google-di...
For all I know you're part of a FUD campaign from Google. Dr. Epstein's paper may well be nonsense for all I know but this post adds nothing to the discussion.
Yes, he clearly does. Why else would he spend most of the first three paragraphs detailing his credentials if he didn't think they would lend himself credibility? Which do you think is more relevant to the current discussion, the degree he earned from Harvard nearly 40 years ago or the event that seemingly got him interested in Google's "censorship" in 2012 and kicked off his research?
>Why not attack the substance of the article instead of going with the the classic "slander the opposition" play that all kinds of disingenuous actors regularly employ?
A large part of the substance rests on the idea that Google is biased. Not that they are falsifying the facts, that they are displaying facts in such a way as to intentionally manipulate the behavior of the people reading those facts. How is it off the table to mirror the same question back to Epstein and ask whether maybe he has biases that have caused him (perhaps even subconsciously) to gather and present the facts in such a way as to show his intended result?
This testimony isn't an apolitical peer reviewed scientific paper. It is a plea in front of the US Senate for political action. I think it is fair to ask the motivation behind that political action and whether Epstein put the cart before the horse in his research. However, I will be the first to admit that doesn't necessarily invalidate his arguments. I pointed that out in the first sentence of my first comment.
>For all I know you're part of a FUD campaign from Google.
I hope the irony in this accusation was intentional.
Lines that stand out are:
- "Google has likely been determining the outcomes of upwards of 25 percent of the national elections worldwide since at least 2015"
- "In the weeks leading up to the 2018 election, bias in Google’s search results may have shifted upwards of 78.2 million votes" (that would be 70% of the 113 million people who voted in the election)
- "Google’s “Go Vote” prompt was not a public service; it was a vote manipulation"
- "To let Big Tech companies get away with invisible manipulation on this scale would be to abandon the free-and-fair election. It would make democracy meaningless, even if your chosen candidate prevailed."
You are misinterpreting what he is saying there. That same thing tripped me up too on first glance because the 78.2 million number seemed ridiculously high. He is referring to votes and not people who voted. If there were 10 items on your ballet and he thinks Google may have influence you, he is counting that as 10 votes and not 1 person voting. There is nothing technically wrong with displaying the number that way, but it seems so misleading that it makes me question if it was intentionally chosen to make the problem sound worse. It is decisions like that which make me doubt his neutrality in presenting the data.
I agree - it doesn't feel like the most honest way to represent that data and I doubt that subtlety came through in his testimony for congress.
and who has been locked out on holidays multiple time in the last 2 years with similar effect, only that an SMS would not reach me...
these are not the only shitty things in my existence brought by google.
perhaps then, the author is entitled to have a grudge for another reason.
if grudges are so bad, then the opposite: what of endless cheerleading for the status quo - are motives there also questionable?
Historically can we complain that newspapers controlled personal opinion? Even now, we famously have a political figure criticising a news paper for it's less than favourable coverage ;-). But in seriousness, how much has democracy been eroded by the ability of large corporations to send pretty much any message they wish unchecked?
We could certainly argue that Google has a longer reach and a considerable higher degree of ability to actually extract data about the population. But why single out Google? Facebook is still around ;-) Surely we need to be concerned not just about a single entity, but a class of "attacks" against democracy -- many of which we have tolerated in the past. Perhaps we technology is getting to the point where it's a big problem. Or perhaps it's been a big problem for a long time and we haven't really realised (since the arrival of radio and TV or perhaps even the advent of ubiquitous literacy, widespread newspapers).
So, I appreciate the point that pointing the microscope at Google is probably misguided, but I think we need to be more and more cautious about how the dissemination of information allows small numbers of people to effectively measure and control public opinion.
Interestingly, if I go to his site now, it's ran on PHP 5.6.40 (not supported) and is on Joomla 3.6.2, current Joomla is 3.9.5.
Here's an article he wrote on The Epoch Times, which I believe is cited in the section about how Google is running GOTV for the Democrats:
He had a poor experience with them some time ago, and Googles behaviour in the last 7 years has been abysmal and seems to be getting far worse. eg likely re-inforcing his opinion.
Not really seeing why he'd "forgive" an entity with those circumstances.
If Google had instead changed for the better, maybe you'd have a point. :)
Sure. But you are too. You seem surprised someone would hold a grudge for 7 years against a bad actor.
Personally, I don't find it surprising at all.
I am certain that 90% of the people who step into Congress are crooks, or at least have no honest opinion, so I would only use details of Epstein’s testimony to confirm existing biases.
You disguise your rather strong claim with passive voice and a conclusion that doesn’t attempt to convince me at all.
I was unclear, I meant that your arguments leave one with the inference that Epstein would dedicate the remainder of his life against Google. I mean petty man as in man motivated by petty reasons.
I am unaware if you really meant to imply that or if you’ve been repeatedly communicating unclearly.
1. There is clear evidence that Epstein holds a grudge against Google based on the quarantine they put on his website.
2. It is not clear that this grudge determines his opinion about Google's influence on elections.
3. However, the grudge is relevant information in anyone's consideration of Epstein's opinions. Do with it what you will.
2. Yes, but it is not even clear he holds this opinion or is being paid to parrot viewpoints he is paid for.
3. No evidence there is a grudge, see my argument in item #1.
1. Noticing that this guy's site was serving malware --- which Epstein was later forced to concede that it was.
2. Putting a warning on the search engine referral.
It is a pretty obnoxious message board trope that anyone who disagrees with one's argument must be fully directionally committed to any "compatible" argument; it can't just be that your argument is bad, it must be that I'm defending Google because of an abiding affection for Google. Gross.
- It increases voter turnout across the board (which favors Democrats marginally)
- Google users tend to be younger (and hence more left-leaning)
Google has many questionable practices, but simply reminding people when it is an election day is not one of them
That’s a big what-if, of course. I’m not even sure if it would be violation of any privacy law because that’s not selling your data to 3rd-parties.
And you should expect this to take a much less straight forwards form than outright malicious intend.
Machine learning stuff, to us mere mortals, is a black box that seems to output that what we desire. However, we don't need a single black box to completely hide the effect from everyone involved. It can be simply spread out over many processes without anyone noticing the sum of countless, by themselves very sensible, pro-google decisions made by google and its employees.
Say on a fuzzy edge some human or automation has to decide if a website gets banned from the index or not. Since they use adsense or google analytics it becomes possible to contact someone running the site or even, long before the offense, present them with a machine generated report suggesting decline of quality.
The google hating webmaster doesn't want all that tracking crap on his site and therefore he might be punished by not having the warning in advance. It doesn't seem harmful, it seems perfectly reasonable, if however you create 1000 such effects the meaningless 0.1% adds up to 100%.
Say, we take a user profile that use to frequent sites now banned from the search index. If that profile moves to a new website. Does that merit close monitoring? If the AI is a black box you don't even get to ask the question.
It all seems to be fair and logical but the sum of those 2 would boil down to close monitoring websites not using analytics. We would praise the AI for noticing it so soon and so efficiently.
And so things further escalate without anyone connecting the dots.
To make it more sinister:
We have a system of pro-consumerism entities that collectively indoctrinates us to enjoy consumerism. We don't know how efficient or effective that system is. But all we need to know is that we can improve it.
How hard is it really to plant a seed, water it and eat the tomatoes? How hard is it to mix flour, yeast and water then shove it in the oven? It sure seems like an infinitely complex task to me, infinite as in: ill never do it. That apathy is great news for consumerism. Its behavior that deserves to be praised and rewarded by the entities benefiting from it. There is no evil man pulling levers behind a curtain. Its just the way things are.
Disclaimer: I haven't read the pdf (only responding to your comment) and don't really hold a strong position on this question, other than being sceptical of Google's participation in any political process.
My motive was "Where do i vote" is basically the top query on Google on election day, and people would get crappy answers.
In fact, it was actually Ginny's idea (she's very civic minded), and she needed an engineer to help, and I was the only engineer in the DC office.
So i said "how hard it could it be" (famous last words) and did it. 2 swe's in geo got dragged in along the way because they thought it was cool (eventually we just staffed a team on our own).
Michael geary, who is on HN somewhere, did all the JS.
Along the way, i spent my time and energy creating the voting information project (with pew charitable trusts), and open standards for sharing the data necessary to answer this question, after discovering what a proprietary crap hole basic civic data like this is.
So there you go, now you know the motives.
In fact, if you ask some of the early data partners (until i could get critical mass in opening the data), you will discover we were in fact the only ones they pretty much ever had who asked to have all personally identifying info, etc. stripped from data sources before they were given to us.
They found it quite funny, because this kind of data is actually a big business owned by large political operative companies that have tentacles in various states.
The notion that someone didn't want to know the people associated with the address records was hilarious to them.
These databases are large lists of who lives where, their political affiliation, voting history, and various political districts they belong to.
We want addresses and districts only.
Literally everyone is trying to remind people to vote.
This is a good thing.
Anyone complaining about anyone trying to remind people to vote is just ridiculous.
Again, I'm not taking either position myself but those are two different political positions which exist. Google is choosing one and thus taking a political, pro-active stance.
That is not a valid position to have and thus doesn't need to be considered.
Voting is the best way to figure out how everyone feels on things. As annoying as it is party lines giving free passes to incumbents that is a problem better solved via other methods such as term limits.
Even if someone is going to vote opposite of me I would rather they express that opinion than have the vote not hear their voice.
The solution to uniformed voters is for people to become informed not avoid people going to the polls.
Calling it a "political, pro-active stance" is, well, ridiculous.
I guess you can try to label everything, but i don't think you are going to find a lot of support for your attempt.
 I'm speaking about poll taxes, poll tests, etc.
What is wrong with that, and how would you propose to fix it via a mechanism that didn't also e.g. outlaw FOX News?
If they can, then this is just a random guy making things out of proportion and there's nothing useful there. If they can't, and Google can indeed change people's mind in a level unparalleled to any other organization, then you go looking for why and you either takes that power away, or makes sure it's available for everybody.
Vote selling is election fraud, which is a crime. Anyone who took those discounts would go to jail. Sounds fair to me.
I don't see how "Please vote" is remotely comparable to vote buying. Can you elaborate?
When you consider some of the recent decisions about what constitutes "speech," it raises the important question of whether a private company influencing its customers' voting preferences would actually be protected.
How much different is it for a company to use its speech to influence a politician directly (donations, lobbying, PACs, etc.) vs. stating its political opinions on its own private "property" potentially to influence politics indirectly?
In physical space, is it legal to:
* Have a sign promoting a social position in the window of your private store? ("Say no to drugs!")
* Have a sign promoting a political position? ("Say no to the Iraq war!")
* Have a sign promoting a candidate? ("I like Ike!")
* Tell customers who to vote for? ("Have a nice day, vote for JFK!")
* Tell only customers that "look a certain way" who to vote for? ("As someone in a wheelchair, you should vote for FDR!")
Now convert all this to the online world with banner ads, user targeting, and personalization. Isn't it just free speech at scale?
fwiw, an online "go vote" is not manipulation if it's not targeted even if the audience is an uneven demographic, but "i like ike" is. and while google search may have a younger demographic, they certainly don't intentionally limit that, since they want everyone to use google search.
If for profit companies are Constitutionally allowed to make political donations, why would reminding people to vote be any different?
Differently put, what harm is done by getting people to go vote when you are not influencing them to vote in a certain fashion? I would argue that only the opposite is problematic, to discourage people to vote.
Googles motivation shouldnt matter as long as they are not influencing who you are going to vote for.
But thats another topic on its own, I find it hard to argue why google should be singled out in a country where even news organizations endorse candidates. If they are to powerful dismember them instead of making a lex google.
"Vote rigging" would be the term.
Companies intentionally try to associate their brand with other things seen as positive -- pride month, the Olympics, the environment, promoting diversity, etc.
Google does this with their home-page doodles. Encouraging people to vote is another feel-good brand association.
There's nothing nefarious here like Google promoting a specific political agenda, that's overthinking it. It simply improves their brand image which makes people more likely to trust and use and promote their products. It's the profit motive at work... which, to answer your question, is why a for-profit advertising company does it.
The government should be hands-off here. Look only to the fact that they're not investigating Microsoft, Walmart, or the ISPs, to realize that this is targeted political harassment.
Should the private gas company be forced to be platforms for radical views?
From what I've seen his guests seem to run the entire spectrum: martial artists, military veterans, comedians, physicists, journalists, etc. Sure he's had crackpot Alex Jones on, but he's also had Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Elon Musk, and Gary Johnson.
mobile app stores browsers auto-completing frequent websites (eg. searching for "apple" vs your browser auto-completing "apple.com").
Interesting. I assumed they displayed those for everyone. Did any whistleblowers come up saying how they decided who to show that and who to not show that message? Because if they only picked out voters they assumed would vote Democrat that would be troubling. Though, I guess it is tempting to say, they are using their resources however they see fit, but even then I'd at least hope they are transparent and clear were they stand, and not try to pretend to be unbiased.
> A growing body of evidence suggests that Google employees deliberately engineer ephemeral
experiences to change people’s thinking.
Does anyone from Google here even knows about or heard the phrase "ephemeral experiences"? Search suggestions I guess could change people's opinions, but I am not sure about the deliberate manipulation part, and that it's concerted internal effort.
Frankly the whole letter and article is quite conspiratorial and backed up only by references to his own equally bombastic claims.
I think the argument boils down to since they are capable of doing so, and no one would be able to tell if they did; therefore search must be open to prevent such potential actions.
Google has been caught doing things like favoring inferior shopping searches to point to their own products. So maybe it is possible to detect and not as much of a risk.
They did. Epstein's argument is this:
1. Google is run by liberals
2. Higher voter turnout is better for Democrats than Republicans.
3. The liberals that run Google used their position to increase voter turnout.
4. He uses some hand waving to approximate actual numbers
Most importantly, none of that claim is peer reviewed and he is citing himself for it, with no real way to verify if his numbers or conclusion is accurate or even realistic.
fwiw, here's his cited source:
And if "go vote" is a threat to democracy then I shudder to think of what newspaper endorsements, superpac advertisements and opinion news channels are. Heck, election day isn't a federal holiday so flexible work hours (which favor the professional class and therefore Republicans) must be a conspiracy to sway elections!
It's baffling that anybody takes this seriously.
they should just do what we do in Australia and make voting mandatory for everyone.
Fixes this issue immediately :-P and arguably is MORE democratic. (But I suspect that's going to make him unhappy as well)
I could see that. Or at least make it a national holiday so people can get off work.
They presumably did. If you follow the link for that  he extrapolitaed a bunch of numbers with "more people who use Google search lean left than right" and thus telling people to go vote influences more people who vote left.
To force a certain spelling even for a single word, enclose it in quotes.
Yeah no thanks.
"Monitoring systems" are exactly why Google and similar companies are a problem.
Or, to put it in another way, since these corporations are just giant buckets of money sloshing around, wouldn't it be true that pretty much any political activism they incorporate into their business operations would have the potential to be considered an election-influencing political contribution?
Many people have been very concerned with Google's monopolistic power over the economy.
Literally the difference in these two auto completes, can mean a make or break most businesses:
brand name is... scam
brand name is... great
Add to that google has been unjustly pushing it's own sites to the top and you have blatant market manipulation, even if it doesn't conform to the legal definition of this term, it definitively conforms to the spirit of the law.
That never bothered Mr Epstein.
But as soon as he can give it a political spin, all of a sudden this power and its abuse are an issue.
And even then it is so narrow and in a space so rife with bias that it's hard to take seriously. I mean, the major networks don't even feature 3rd party candidates in the debate. And yet I don't hear him crying bias. I'm pretty sure media bias is way more pervasive and swings more elections than google or Facebook has ever done.
The issue at hand should be Google's monopoly on search, it's blatant bias and the oversize power that gives them. If you pick up on specifics and not address the wider issue, I'm going to have to wonder why.
This is the most important claim that he makes, and as far as I can tell, he gives zero backing for it.
He has two citations. The first citation is a paper showing that re-ordering search results to show links to articles that favor candidate A will cause readers to favor candidate A. The second citation does not give any explanation for the 2.6 million figure.
Let's take a look at the second citation: https://www.theepochtimes.com/10-ways-big-tech-can-shift-mil...
>I found pro-Clinton bias in all 10 search positions on the first page of Google’s search results. [...] Because, as I noted earlier, Google’s search algorithm is not constrained by equal-time rules, it almost certainly ends up favoring one candidate over another in most political races, and that shifts opinions and votes.
This is literally true but realistically meaningless. Suppose that there are two candidates for office, A and B. Days before the election, it is revealed that candidate A fucks dogs. The news publishes many articles about candidate A fucking dogs. Google places those articles highly in search results, and many voters see them.
Has Google shown pro-candidate B bias by showing those articles? Obviously not. Unless Epstein can show that a viewpoint-neutral ranking would have produced a different result, what he has is meaningless.
These claims are a bit...much. In the 2016 election, which was characterized by media manipulation and fake news stories, Google's results, according to his analysis, seemed to skew favorably toward Clinton. How do you even control for all the confounding factors here? Maybe Google is just better at weeding out misinformation than Bing, resulting in fewer negative stories about Clinton (or fewer positive stories about Trump).
Then in 2018 Google threatened democracy by telling people to go out and vote, which clearly is an act of voter manipulation by Google in Dr. Epstein's view. In that same election, Dr. Epstein claims that Google's results were biased in favor of one party; yet in that same election, one party's talking points were divorced from reality, so any search algorithm than favors truthfulness would have to favor the other party.
The only issue I see is how would you make sure other smaller companies aren't providing biased search results too? His idea for having a monitoring system sounds like a privacy nightmare for users. At least you can regulate the hell out of Google and have actual audits. Doing the same for thousands of search engines isn't easy.
Well, perhaps that definition of bias is specific to strictly political topics rather than questions about the observable effects of various actions. Even so, by the standard of shifting views a certain direction, does Google present as much of a threat to democracy as higher education does?
It's all about trust. If people trust more Google or Apple than the legacy system, then maybe these brands earned people trust by also doing good things (sometime) ? Of course they have now a great responsability.
I was blocked on twitter for nearly a week, while they reviewed my challenge and judged against me, for posting anti-violence messages of all things.
I can't help but feel if the likes of Google, Twitter and Facebook are censoring otherwise legal and non-violent content in favor of a political ideology, they deserve to lose section 230 protections.
In historical context, US media has been undergoing a unabated consolidation for the past 3 decades. "In 1983, 90% of US media was controlled by 50 companies; as of 2011, 90% was controlled by just 6 companies and in 2017 the number was 5.", https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentration_of_media_ownersh....
Maybe if you would step back from the partisan-thinking mode, you would find people more amenable to your views?
Labeling things 'left' or 'right' or 'liberal' may be a convenient shorthand, but it is not intellectually honest. Reality doesn't conform to party lines.