Google Considered Altering Search In Response To Trump Travel Ban

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In short: Google nearly began adjusting search results last year in what would have been a decidedly political move in opposition to the highly controversial travel ban instituted by the Trump administration, based on emails recently reviewed by the WSJ. The correspondence is reported to show Googlers discussing how to implement algorithms that would counter "algorithmically biased" search results centered around terms such as 'Islam', 'Muslim', and 'Iran' or 'Mexico', 'Hispanic', and 'Latino.' What's more, the company's employees discussed ways to highlight facts about immigration via data from the US State Department, Department of Homeland Security, and other information – such as links to help users donate to ACLU. Although several higher-ups at Google are reported to have agreed with the premise, communications with public relations and a statement from the company indicate that it wasn't prepared to politicize its services. While Google executives and Google itself have openly supported various (and often left-leaning) political ideologies in the past, none of the proposed changes were implemented.

Background: Google has been at the center of a raging debate about user privacy, influence, and bias following the 2016 election. Most recently, the controversy has centered around whether or not Google has actively been biased or censored politicians associated with the Republican party or policies. That 'intolerance' has been alleged to extend to the very top, including accusations from President Trump. The President has gone so far as to claim, most notably via Twitter, that Google surfaces a high ratio of anti-Trump material and content deliberately. That partially stems from a video showing Alphabet CEO Sergey Brin commenting on the 2016 election and actively taking part in protests against the immigration ban in question. Fueling that further, the company has actively taken a stance in both its services and in public statements against the spread of misinformation or 'fake news,' although that doesn't seem to be political at all on its surface.

Impact: It doesn't seem likely that Google will take to censoring political agendas or countering them in the near future. However, the discovery that employees were discussing the issue will almost certainly have some implications for ongoing disputes between the company and the US government with regard to alleged bias in its search results. Specifically, the news could exacerbate speculation that Google censors or surfaces content based on political ideology. Conversely, the email exchange also appears to show strong resolve from the company when it comes to bringing politics into its products and services. Many of the changes appear to have centered around providing factual information from official sources alongside unchanged and more typically expected search results, rather than censorship. In spite of that, the company ultimately didn't act on its employees' desire to change the algorithms.

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