By now in 2018 its undeniable that American based global megacorporation Google holds unprecedented amounts of influence; arguably greater than many countries. The tech juggernaut has its hands in everything from GPS hegemony, to digital political advertising dominance, to spearheading the development of AI. Google’s most powerful asset however is the one that propelled them to global dominance; their search engine.
In the era of the internet, there’s almost definitively no page more prolific than the elegantly simple Google homepage. In fact, it (or at least its search bar) are almost ubiquitously a part of default pages for every computer and browser on the planet with many people choosing to use it over their website address bars altogether. In other words, literally almost everybody uses Google in some capacity; and it’s no wonder with essentially no competitors within threatening distance of what has, in all but name, become the homepage of the internet.
Considering this, Americans, and in fact, the world should be *extremely* concerned by the subject matter of emails between high ranking Google employees, leaked by the Wall Street Journal. In messages never meant for the public eye dating back to the fallout of the 2017 travel ban, Google employees explicitly and overtly discussed implementing means of “leveraging” search functionality to combat what they considered to be “prejudiced, algorithmically biased search results.”
If you’re less than tech savvy what this essentially translates to is doctoring results for keywords like ‘Mexico’ or ‘Islam’ to only provide links and websites Google employees consider adequately politically correct or, morally even murkier, ones they want you to see. When you enter a search into the Google bar, your results are formulated and ranked based on Google’s incredibly complex algorithms that consider a myriad of factors from words used to your location to provide the most relevant results. Companies can also pay Google to take a position at the hallowed top of the results, hence how Google made its advertising fortune.
When it comes to Google, and search engines at large, location is utterly everything. Being at the top of a search page drastically increases the likelihood of having your page visited. Makes sense, right? Furthermore, accrued data, mainly from Google itself or its consultants, shows that links outside the first roughly 4-7 results become drastically more unlikely to be chosen. Links that don’t make the first page cut are essentially doomed to internet obscurity; at least under those specific search terms.
This key aspect of inherent search engine functionality, in combination with Google’s near monopoly in nearly every open web market, results in Google and its staff wielding an absolutely incredible degree of influence over users, which as we covered earlier happens to be just about everyone. And here’s the scariest part; you’d have pretty much no means of determining Google to be doing this to you since any employee bias would only manifest algorithmically within the fraction of a second span your search takes. In a metaphorical sense Google wouldn’t be blocking you from certain doorways to your face (as far as you could tell) rather they’d be carefully determining which doorways are even available to you at all.
It doesn’t require a decade of philosophical study to see why such actions by the technological super company would be wildly immoral and, for their part, Google has stated it never has and never would implement such functions. Rather, a spokesman claimed the emails to simply be brainstorming and that none of the ideas ever saw implementation. While this is hopefully true, for the reasons just covered it would be very difficult to verify as for most any Google user.
Google is already under scrutiny for possible political bias in light of another leak, this time a video from Breitbart of top Facebook executives and staff decrying politics and events they personally found troubling in a meeting of some sort, most notably the 2016 election of President Trump (the video dates back to right after). With this new evidence of those sentiments being potentially operationalized on Google’s platforms, there may only be so many more chances to deny partisanship before Google is facing down congressional hearings, or even worse, an antitrust case.
Author’s Perspective: It’s important to let the news stay empirical and factual (as opposed to a disguised personal tirade). However, here I absolutely must be clear here how incredibly dangerous the game Google is playing is. If Google really is engaging in these practices, it’s much more than a threat merely to political opponents of the company; it’s a threat to free thought in the digital age altogether. Few would deem me particularly conservative (in fact I have never been a registered Republican) thus rest assured my political dog in this fight is nearly nonexistent. But Google’s emails should be universally condemned by all.
The influence Google holds is immense and the subject matter of these emails, that Google didn’t even feel the need to deny, is more than concerning, it’s downright threatening. While demanding government regulation would likely be trading one leviathan for another, it’s indisputable that Google needs *some* kind of check on its power if it continues to exist in near monopoly; and especially if problematic information like this continues to come from the dark corners of the company. Make no mistake, if Google were to do what was described it would, without even a hint of hyperbole, be one of the greatest threats to the free marketplace of ideas we have ever faced.