Google: “There has been a shift in our thinking…”

For many years when Google was under threat of regulatory action for manipulating its search results for its own commercial gain, the company used every trick in the book — including ignorance, incompetence, safe harbor, fair use, First Amendment and even web traffic beneficence — to avoid criticism in the press and investigation by regulators.

Above all, despite many examples to the contrary, Google appealed to manifest impartiality: its search results were algorithmically derived, untouched by human biases and thus fair. The list of grandiose promises and statements made by Google that turned out to be false and hypocritical is uncomfortably long. Unfortunately for the rest of us, regulatory capture being what it is and the rare penalties being laughable for a $275 billion company, there isn’t much of a black cloud left over Google to worry about, especially under the current U.S. administration.

So perhaps Google now feels freshly emboldened to tell it like it is. In any case, I was impressed by this frank admission in New York Times:

Even at Google, where algorithms and engineers reign supreme in the company’s business and culture, the human contribution to search results is increasing. Google uses human helpers in two ways. Several months ago, it began presenting summaries of information on the right side of a search page when a user typed in the name of a well-known person or place, like “Barack Obama” or “New York City.” These summaries draw from databases of knowledge like Wikipedia, the C.I.A. World Factbook and Freebase, whose parent company, Metaweb, Google acquired in 2010. These databases are edited by humans.

When Google’s algorithm detects a search term for which this distilled information is available, the search engine is trained to go fetch it rather than merely present links to Web pages.

“There has been a shift in our thinking,” said Scott Huffman, an engineering director in charge of search quality at Google. “A part of our resources are now more human curated.”

Not a shift, but a new admission of on-going reality, I’d say. Let’s hope for Scott Huffman’s sake he ran this by Google legal before it was published. Or better yet, let’s hope Google now stops the unbecoming pretensions to being philosophically open and algorithmically impartial.

9 thoughts on “Google: “There has been a shift in our thinking…”

  1. Google is just like any other big corporation, they run for profit. I don’t expect them to be impartial. What’s scary is that they have so much information about everyone.

    • The point isn’t that humans were long involved in determining search results, of course they were, but that when asked in courts or during regulatory investigations, Google kept up the myth that it was all algorithmic and thus manifestly fair, which is the point I made above.

  2. I wonder: how is Google manipulating people to think that they are “the good guys” and don’t do evil. Many people I know trust Google over Apple regarding data privacy, which is absurd as Google has a business model relying on data and Apple (for the most part) sells hardware.

    People reduce Apple’s success often to “Marketing”, but I have to admit: Regarding pulic opinion Google is better at selling themselves as the “good guys”. Sad story.

    • If they don’t care they could become schizophrenic. Or may be they already are and would like us to become so.

    • Add double talk to double think and you have a complete picture of the new Big Brother.
      With double talk you may lure your followers (or users) into either side of your double thinking.

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