Tuesday brought endless commentary and reporting on how President Trump was being utterly ridiculous and conspiratorial to accuse Google of bias in its search algorithms. Funny: Just over a year ago, in June 2017, the European Union fined the company $2.7 billion for … bias in its search algorithms.
Yes, Trump’s off-the-cuff charge focused on political bias, whereas the EU verdict (after a seven-year investigation) was about the company “systematically favoring” its own Google Shopping feature. But all the Trump-bashers who were suggesting Google would never, ever put its thumb on the scale seem to have ignored at least one elephant in the room.
As we write, the top headlines on Google News include two CNN stories: “Trump slams Google search as ‘rigged’ — but it’s not” and “Debunking Donald Trump’s latest conspiracy theory on Google.” How is the average Web surfer to trust that Google isn’t weighting those stories?
The layman has plenty of reasons to worry about political bias to which the company could be blind: Silicon Valley is a notorious progressive place (except on issues that touch its own interests, anyway), and the internal Google discussion over “dissident” engineer James Damore showed a shocking intolerance for the merest questioning of certain left-liberal pieties.
On the commercial front, Google’s power is obvious: Its algorithms can literally make or break a company — perhaps a whole industry. Google says, “We respectfully disagree with” the EU ruling that it “abused its market dominance,” but that’s not exactly a rebuttal.
We’re no fans of heavy-handed government intervention, but any free democratic society is going to frown on enormous unchecked power. It certainly seems like some kind of independent oversight is called for here.
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