Tag Archives: Search Engine

Google’s New Search Feature Gives Party Candidates Power to Control What Information You Receive

By Edgar Wilson – I wrote before that Google’s search algorithm didn’t play politics — facts spoke for themselves, and searcher/voter intent determined the results they found.

That, unfortunately, is no longer the case.

The world’s most popular search engine has announced that a new, experimental feature will give presidential candidates (Republicans and Democrats only) a way to feature their own images, and up to 14,400 characters of their own text, at the top of relevant searches.

Similar to how a search for, say, a celebrity will yield a Knowledge Graph above all other organic results (typically a Wikipedia page), featuring images, biographical information, and related links, the idea is to bring voters directly to the candidates they are searching for with real-time updates.

These Candidate Cards will not be drawn from other popular search results, as the current Knowledge Graphs are; rather, they will be taken from the candidates themselves. That means they will determine independently what the primary search results for their names look and sound like.

It is well documented, researched, and discussed how important social media’s role was in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. By making a public search for facts and resources redundant to social media, Google is compromising the future and development of political engagement online.

The difference between online search and social media was, until now, the difference between campaigns controlling the message and people electing to engage directly, versus the sum of what is being said both by and about candidates, correlated with how the public at large is receiving these many different narratives and messages. Or put differently, Google is bridging the gap between public relations and public scrutiny, and putting PR on top.

Relying on candidates for self-representation is a poor alternative to aggregating reporting, commentary, and the full record of their own comments arranged through Google’s traditional search mechanisms. Of course, traditional search still exists, it just won’t feature above the new Candidate Cards.

[quote_box_center]By making a public search for facts and resources redundant to social media, Google is compromising the future and development of political engagement online. Edgar T. Wilson, IVN Independent Author[/quote_box_center]

It is roughly akin to a newspaper giving its front page away to politicians to write whatever they please (alongside whatever photographs they choose), and relegating traditional news to the interior. All the power and significance that comes with being on the front page is signed away to partisans. The real news isn’t gone, it is just buried.

Candidates are historically — and in this race particularly — poor resources for an accurate account of their historical positions or accomplishments. By featuring them above organic search results, Google is lending credibility where none belongs.

A myriad of other channels — from social media to their own campaign websites — already exist to give candidates an unfiltered, direct route to potential voters.

Google might have been a counterweight, a route to find robust skepticism, alternative points of view, and of course comparing claims against reality. And while the immediate aftermath of any major debate is always an avalanche of articles providing more grounded analysis and fact-checking of the many claims and quotations exchanged in the heat of the pageant, Google is giving precedence to the raw, redundant outflow of propaganda generated by the candidates themselves.

In yet another medium, the voices of the leading parties are being hoisted above the voices of everyone else.

By providing this new feature exclusively to the leading party candidates, Google is mirroring the focus on whatever selection of aspirants the television networks deem “legitimate” hopefuls, and marginalizing all the rest. Just as mainstream news prefers to ignore alternative parties, reject rule changes that would let lesser-known candidates feature in debates, and generally behave as though Republicans and Democrats provide sufficient variety to satisfy American voters — now Google will, too.

Google presents its Candidate Cards feature as something that “levels the playing field for candidates to share ideas and positions on issues they may not have had a chance to address during the debate.” This effort might come off as more sincere if it did in fact level the playing field, rather than cementing the dominance of two parties over the spectrum of American political ideas.

Google may not be directly endorsing a single candidate — yet — but it is endorsing the stymied, dysfunctional two-party system that disenfranchises voters, fuels cynicism, and hurts democracy.

The Information Age would seem to be a key component to realizing greater democratic participation: if an educated electorate is central to the success of democracy, then access to information would be a logical next step. Active voters ought to be able to learn about their choices; the de facto gatekeeper of that information can’t reinforce the system that limits those choices by limiting that information.

The structure of Google search results gives weight to certain information; that which provides the most value is supposed to float to the top. If this new kind of formatting is to be filtered through partisan favoritism and become a standard element of Google’s political search results, then the voters have been abandoned by the last truly democratic outlier there was: the Internet.


This article was republished with permission from IVN

EU Files Charges Against Google For Market Abuse, Antitrust Violations

On Wednesday, the European Commission sent a Statement of Objections to Google, claiming that the company has abused its dominant position in the market place, and has manipulated the operating systems on Android devices to create favor for Google’s Apps.

A statement from the Commission claimed that Google has infringed on EU antitrust rules by stifling competition and harming consumers in the European Economic Area through the practice of “systematically favoring its own comparison shopping product in its general search results pages.

Margrethe Vestager, the European Union Commissioner in charge of competition policy, released a statement saying that the Commission wants to ensure that the EU’s antitrust rules are being followed.

The Commission’s objective is to apply EU antitrust rules to ensure that companies operating in Europe, wherever they may be based, do not artificially deny European consumers as wide a choice as possible or stifle innovation,” Vestager said.

Vestager added that she is concerned Google “has given an unfair advantage to its own comparison shopping service, in breach of EU antitrust rules.”  

“Google now has the opportunity to convince the Commission to the contrary,” Vestager said. “However, if the investigation confirmed our concerns, Google would have to face the legal consequences and change the way it does business in Europe.”

In an investigation the Commission started in Nov. 2010, it came to the conclusion that Google “gives systematic favorable treatment to its comparison shopping product,” called “Google Shopping,” on its search results pages, by “showing Google Shopping more prominently on the screen.”

In addition to the charges regarding market abuse, the EU has opened a formal antitrust investigation into Google’s involvement with the operating system on Android devices.

The Commission noted that since 2005, Google has “led development of the Android mobile operating system,” which has resulted in smartphone and tablet manufacturers who use the Android operating system entering into agreements with Google to “obtain the right to install Google’s applications on their Android devices.

According to the Commission, the investigation will focus on “whether Google has entered into anti-competitive agreements or abused a possible dominant position in the field of operating systems, applications and services for smart mobile devices.”

Vestager said that because smartphones and tablets “play an increasing role in many people’s daily lives,” she wants to make sure the markets in Europe “can flourish without anticompetitive constraints imposed by any company.”

RT noted that companies such as Microsoft, TripAdvisor, and Streetmap have also made antitrust allegations against Google, claiming that “it uses its search engine to promote its own products, giving an unfair advantage over its competitors.”

Google released a statement on Wednesday, in response to the European Commission’s questions about Google’s partner agreements. The company highlighted the fact that all partner agreements are voluntary, and that while Android devices can be used without Google, the company’s Apps “provide real benefits to Android users, developers and the broader ecosystem.”

Google has 10 weeks to respond to the Statement of Objections, and it has the option to challenge the Commission in court.

The New York Times reported that if Google is found guilty of the charges, the Commission would have the option to levy a fine that “could exceed €6 billion,” which is about 10 percent of Google’s most recent annual revenue, and could be the “largest single fine yet levied in such a case.”