Is Google putting its thumb on the scale in the presidential campaign?
True comedic value can often be found in allowing Google’s autocomplete to work its magic. But when Google isn’t cracking us up with its wit, internet giant is making waves in terms of just how biased this feature may be. And according to a few reports last week, Google’s slant shows in what it won’t prompt you to ask.
A YouTube video posted last week by SourceFed suggested that Google was purposefully hiding not-so-nice results for the Democratic presidential nominee. The video reveals that Google doesn’t suggest “Hillary Clinton crimes” as a completion to “Hillary Clinton cri,” though both Yahoo and Bing do. Similarly, if you type in “Hillary Clinton ind,” you won’t be shown “Hillary Clinton indictment,” though SourceFed suggested that this should be the case, given the popularity of the topic.
To assuage fears and shed a bit more light on how autocomplete actually works, Google has published a blog post addressing the issue directly.
“Over the last week we’ve received questions about our autocomplete feature. I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify a few things,” wrote Tamar Yehoshua, a VP at Google.
According to the search executive, “the autocomplete algorithm is designed to avoid completing a search for a person’s name with terms that are offensive or disparaging. We made this change a while ago following feedback that Autocomplete too-often predicted offensive, hurtful, or inappropriate queries about people.” And apparently, regardless of who you are (famous, infamous, or not famous at all), the filter works the same way. Google demonstrates this feature here.
Admitting that autocomplete “isn’t an exact science,” Yehoshua added that “the output of the prediction algorithms changes frequently,” and that “predictions are produced based on a number of factors including the popularity and freshness of search terms.” This means that your autocomplete options may change over time, and will likely look different depending on who you are.
Finally, Yehoshua pointed out, “It’s also important to keep in mind that Autocomplete predictions aren’t search results and don’t limit what you can search for. It’s a shortcut for those who are interested. You can still perform whatever search you want to, and of course, regardless of what you search for, we always strive to deliver the most relevant results from across the web.”