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Google Abused Its Power By Quashing a Report Critical Of Its Service, Reporter Says (gizmodo.com) 279

In the wake of claims that Google got a think-tank research team sacked for criticizing the company, a respected journalist is alleging other abuses by the search giant. Kashmir Hill, a reporter at Gizmodo, is claiming that when she worked for Forbes six years ago, Google told the the magazine's staff that if publishers didn't add the "+" Google Plus social network button at the bottom of stories, those articles would come up lower in search results. From her report: I published a story headlined, "Stick Google Plus Buttons On Your Pages, Or Your Search Traffic Suffers," that included bits of conversation from the meeting. (An internet marketing group scraped the story after it was published and a version can still be found here.) Google promptly flipped out. This was in 2011, around the same time that a congressional antitrust committee was looking into whether the company was abusing its powers. Google never challenged the accuracy of the reporting. Instead, a Google spokesperson told me that I needed to unpublish the story because the meeting had been confidential, and the information discussed there had been subject to a non-disclosure agreement between Google and Forbes. (I had signed no such agreement, hadn't been told the meeting was confidential, and had identified myself as a journalist.) It escalated quickly from there. I was told by my higher-ups at Forbes that Google representatives called them saying that the article was problematic and had to come down. The implication was that it might have consequences for Forbes, a troubling possibility given how much traffic came through Google searches and Google News. [...] Given that I'd gone to the Google PR team before publishing, and it was already out in the world, I felt it made more sense to keep the story up. Ultimately, though, after continued pressure from my bosses, I took the piece down -- a decision I will always regret. Forbes declined comment about this. But the most disturbing part of the experience was what came next: Somehow, very quickly, search results stopped showing the original story at all. As I recall it -- and although it has been six years, this episode was seared into my memory -- a cached version remained shortly after the post was unpublished, but it was soon scrubbed from Google search results. That was unusual; websites captured by Google's crawler did not tend to vanish that quickly.
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Google Abused Its Power By Quashing a Report Critical Of Its Service, Reporter Says

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  • Probably true. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tietokone-olmi ( 26595 ) on Friday September 01, 2017 @09:45AM (#55122459)

    Power is most easily apparent when it's being abused.

    • by thsths ( 31372 )

      "Do the right thing" (for Google).

    • Re:Probably true. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Friday September 01, 2017 @09:52AM (#55122517)
      In my book, Google was only the good guy when Altavista was the alternative.

      Now all the search giants are bad guys. They have the power to both effectively promote and silence, and not a single one of them can resist.
      • Re:Probably true. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Friday September 01, 2017 @10:13AM (#55122673)

        Google really was a good company in the beginning. That changed when they became a major multinational corporation.

      • >, and not a single one of them can resist.

        It's like certain journalists from the SF bay area: leftie critic of power one day, typing up hit lists of heretics for Der Stürmer the other.

      • I am very glad that Bing has become so very friendly to Tor in the guise of Duck Duck Go.

        Many searches that I test between Bing and Duck Duck Go are identical, and Bing is listed as a search provider for Duck Duck Go. I do not know if Microsoft is an investor in Duck Duck Go, but it would not surprise me.

        Many harsh things could and have been said about Microsoft, but at this point they are the champions of anonymous search, and a far better corporate citizen in this regard than Google.

        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          Duck Duck Go adds a bunch of functionality I like to the search bar, even if the search is itself is still mostly Bing. Plus it hides your search history in general.

          Mostly, though DDG "bang codes" are handy. I frequently use "!wa" to send my search to Wolfram Online - best calculator ever.

    • yes it might be true but context is everything...

      I'll forgive google as I have experience with other software companies

    • by Myrdos ( 5031049 )

      Well, the content they were quashing was stuff they supposedly released under an NDA. Still, upranking sites that have your +1 button is still pretty shameful.

      • According to Google. The reporter says otherwise. Personally, I think that means I don't know if there was a NDA covering the exchange or not.

        If I had to choose a "yes/no" answer to that question, the only basis to make the judgment is who is more credible -- and given Google's recent history, that would have to be the reporter.

        • Re:Probably true. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Friday September 01, 2017 @10:32AM (#55122833) Journal
          Who cares if there was an NDA or not. That issue is a red herring to distract you from the content of what was revealed. It isn't suddenly okay to do bad things because you'd gagged all the witnesses.
          • ....or because those implicated claim that the Russians hacked to get the information

            I propose "red herring" be the term of the day. I used it in a previous story already.

            • If I hacked someone to steal financial data for fun and profit that should have different consequences than hacking someone to obtain information for the general good such as revealing corruption in politics or an undercover genocide. If I reveal that your bank is ripping you off, you should consider the content of what I revealed independent of whether I was going for a joyride in bank data and selling it for a profit when I turned up the information that told you this. The bank doesn't suddenly become mor
          • The NDA is a separate issue. I agree that in terms of the meat of the story, it doesn't matter.

            Where it does matter, though, is if Google really was pulling the NDA card, that strongly implies that the gist of what the reported said is true.

            • Agreed. And there is no moral win for Google here. If there was actually an NDA it implies Google knew full well what they were doing was wrong at the time they were doing it and were trying to prevent it from getting out. If there wasn't an NDA and Google is trying to allege one it suggests that they know what they were doing was wrong. Either implies an attempt to suppress the reporting of something.
          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

            Was it really malicious though? Everyone knows that Google promotes things your friends have hit +1 on in search results, so naturally putting a handy +1 button on the site will encourage them to do that.

            It sounds like a misunderstanding. Can't be sure, need further confirmation.

      • It is probably more of side effect than a direct effect. They same would likely be true of any social media link back you put on the site.

        Google's very basic ranking algorithm is the more sites that link to yours, and the better those sources are, the higher your page ranks. Given that, I could also say that if you put my button on your site that all it does is register the page in a database and outputs some blurb on a page on my site that links back to the page you clicked AND google crawls my page, the

    • by Kohath ( 38547 )

      Enjoy seeing only what Google allows you to see and never anything else. You didn't really want to decide for yourself anyway.

    • My experience is also the ones you yell the loudest are often the ones who have the least to say.

      I am not denying that Google didn't abuse its power. But often we get a lot people who say how big old Google has thwarted them because their ranking isn't as high as they think it should be. And may be lowered because their post probably falls under a Ranting filter vs more formal content.

      Just like a few years ago where Google infamously flagged a picture of an African American as a guerrilla (where the pic

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 01, 2017 @09:50AM (#55122489)

    Oh the irony.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 01, 2017 @09:55AM (#55122527)

    " I Criticized Google. It Got Me Fired. That's Corporate Power" Barry Lynn.. here is the story
      http://m.ndtv.com/opinion/i-criticized-google-it-got-me-fired-thats-corporate-power-1744793

  • As a disclaimer, I happen to think that Google is no different than most other multinational corporations -- that is, they are as evil as it is profitable to be.

    But so many of the criticisms I read of Google seem to be oblique -- that is, instances of Google playing hardball, but with little indication of actual malice or illegal behavior.

    This story is very different from that. This behavior is indefensible and unambiguously abuse of monopoly.

    • "As a disclaimer, I happen to think that Google is no different than most other multinational corporations -- that is, they are as evil as it is profitable to be."

      I agree with this sentiment and it applies to all large corporations, multi-national or not. That is why we should never consider "trust" or "ethics" with regard to large entities (including governments) and just assume any and all position and power they have can and will be abused. All decisions with regard to regulations and legal powers should
  • by Herkum01 ( 592704 ) on Friday September 01, 2017 @09:57AM (#55122547)

    While everyone is up in arms about Google being evil I am a little on the wary side of this. Not because the story is untrue, but rather the implication that only Google is involved with attempting to influence rankings for search results. Everyone has been looking at gaming the system, companies regularly hired people to do just this. I admit that this is blatant but it is not like only Forbes could put the Google button on their page. They appeared to do it with anyone that was willing to participate.

    The other issue I have with this piece is that from a story she did 6 years ago, did they change during this time or is still true? In this case I would like to see a little less complaining and a few more facts about the current state of the problem rather than a rehash of an old article.

    • the implication that only Google is involved with attempting to influence rankings for search results.

      Where is that implied?

      There's no such implication that I can see. However, Google manipulating search rankings to its benefit is a worse thing than anyone else doing it, since it's Google who creates the search rankings.

      • by Herkum01 ( 592704 ) on Friday September 01, 2017 @10:50AM (#55123001)

        You mean Google, explains how it adjusts it search rankings based upon what is the on the page. I don't get it, people seem to think Google is a public utility that it needs to treat everyone and everything equally. They are in the business to make money too. Google, is working with Forbes, to sell Ads and they stated that the Google button increases the rankings of those pages.

        It is not like Google hasn't integrated or adjusted their search results to promote other web sites. A great example is Wikipedia, if I ask a question like P-38 lightning what is [google.com] that Wikipedia is not only at the top of the search results, but they have a special summary box at the top of the page and another box to the right. Another example is if you are looking for an actor/actress they not only pop-up their Wiki information but their profiles on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Myspace. Google has never been perfectly objective or fair.

        We live in the age of caveat emptor . People need to be aware of what they are looking at and maybe do a little more work instead of complaining that Google isn't perfect and is not treating everything fairly.

        • You mean Google, explains how it adjusts it search rankings based upon what is the on the page.

          No, I mean Google dropping critical articles down the memory hole.

    • by WaffleMonster ( 969671 ) on Friday September 01, 2017 @11:17AM (#55123259)

      While everyone is up in arms about Google being evil I am a little on the wary side of this.

      Not because the story is untrue, but rather the implication that only Google is involved with attempting to influence rankings for search results. Everyone has been looking at gaming the system,

      Surprise... every last solitary time a specific action of a specific company is being criticized you will always find a fan stepping up to cry foul by means of asserting everyone is picking on their favorite company. Your all ignoring X, Y and Z who are essentially "doing it too" as if such information is somehow relevant to the topic at hand.

      First your factually incorrect. Nobody else gets to "do it too". They can only game algorithms. Nobody except Google has the power to directly alter results. If Google changed their index the hard way by following the same rules applied to EVERYONE except Google that would be a different matter. This isn't what was being alleged here.

      Second you seem to be quite focused on a narrow and questionable assertion of search engine manipulation when real issue is Google leveraging it's monopoly position to force the press to quash stories of Google leveraging it's monopoly position.

      Is an action any less defensible because more people do it? Hey officer why yes I was speeding but I shouldn't get ticketed because the guy in front of me was going even faster.

      Yes judge I stole a million dollars when I hijacked that armored car bbuutt someone else did the same thing a week ago and they didn't get caught so I shouldn't have to go to jail either.

      This particular line of thought crops up quite often. Unfortunately no matter how often and passionately repeated is still completely nonsensical.

  • ...yeah, about that....
  • by duke_cheetah2003 ( 862933 ) on Friday September 01, 2017 @10:01AM (#55122583) Homepage

    Why wait 6 years to come out with this stuff?

    Got an axe to grind with Google?

    While the story doesn't seem very far fetched, the delay is highly suspect.

  • Inevitable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Friday September 01, 2017 @10:12AM (#55122657)

    ANY organization becomes more evil, (from the standpoint of the average citizen), when it becomes bigger and/or more powerful. That 'and/or' qualifier I put there was intentional. Mozilla didn't have the kind of power that Google has, but after they reached a certain size their own internal power struggles, empire-building tendencies, and sheer hubris led to ignoring their users' needs and desires. As for Google, they are both very big and very powerful. "Might makes right" became a cliché for a very good reason, and Google is a fine example of this.

    I've long argued that laissez-faire ought to apply to small businesses, with a sliding scale of progressively more government interference as a company gets larger. The catch-22 here is that government will become bigger and more powerful as a result, with the same consequences. So what we really need is an educated, thoughtful, politically engaged populace. But governments and corporations have that covered: schooling that teaches knee-jerk obedience to authority and frowns upon truly critical thinking, combined with bread and circuses and copious advertising, ensure that most people will take what they're given and do as they're told, even as they imagine themselves to be rebels.

    • "Might makes right"

      I never liked that phrase because of its obvious untruth -- might gets you your way, might makes victory, but being victorious and getting your way does not imply that you're right.

      I prefer the redefinition of the Golden Rule: he who has the gold makes the rules.

      • "Might makes right"

        I never liked that phrase because of its obvious untruth -- might gets you your way, might makes victory, but being victorious and getting your way does not imply that you're right.

        Actually, I considered exactly that point as I was writing the comment. Then it occurred to me that I had misunderstood the saying all along - that maybe it meant 'right' in the legal sense, (i.e. 'rights'), rather than in the moral and philosophical sense.

    • by Subm ( 79417 )

      > what we really need is an educated, thoughtful, politically engaged populace

      In other words, we're doomed.

  • by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Friday September 01, 2017 @10:18AM (#55122715)

    Google told the the magazine's staff that if publishers didn't add the "+" Google Plus social network button at the bottom of stories, those articles would come up lower in search results.

    They had to somehow "push" Google Plus down our throats. I would give some advice to Google if they want some traction.

    Improve its interface. Have consumers continue to consume video content on the screen even while scrolling and consuming other material.

    In other words, borrow a leaf from Facebook. They seem to be doing pretty well. Emulate the successful.

    • Have consumers continue to consume video content on the screen even while scrolling and consuming other material... In other words, borrow a leaf from Facebook.

      Ugh, please not that leaf. Especially not on mobile. Well, allowing video to keep playing (and stay visible) is fine (the new Oreo PiP mode might be great), but please, please do not autoplay video.

    • They don't care about Google plus anymore. They never did, actually. The only reason they wanted you to sign up is so they could get your name, age and gender, so they could give it to advertisers. Once they had that from everyone, they dropped pretty much all caring about the platform.

      They were feeling competition from Facebook because Facebook could tell advertisers about age and gender. Now Google can too.
  • Seems unlikely. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Friday September 01, 2017 @10:29AM (#55122797)

    Hear me out because i'm trying to be objective about this.

    Google has +1 buttons on a fuckload of pages and it indexes them all. The question is, how much additional computational power would it require to identify the few pages that are not fond of Google? Given all that power used, how much money would they be paying just to suppress a negative articles?

    I don't know the numbers but it seems to me that it would be rather costly to correctly identify which pages to avoid putting a +1 button on. I get the creeping feeling it's more likely that they left an html tag open or something which resulted in eating the button and thus not being displayed.

    • That not how it would work. You don't find pages not using the +1 button and punish them specifically. Instead, you reward the pages that do use the +1 button.

      The end result is exactly the same, but the latter is easier to implement.

    • Google has for a long time been able to de-index web pages on request, and apparently they are able to also de-index pages with similar content. They do that for legal reasons and because they think some pages are trying to game their search results. It's not far-fetched to think they might de-index pages for other reasons as well.

  • Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank Funded by the Tech Giant [nytimes.com] and New Think Tank Emails show "How Google Wields its Power" in Washington [theintercept.com]

    Quashing reports, manipulating search results, and throwing its weight around seem par for the course for Google. After all, they want some return on their investment in politicians, the media, and intellectuals.

  • 1984 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OYAHHH ( 322809 ) on Friday September 01, 2017 @11:16AM (#55123245) Homepage

    Orwell's 1984. If there were ever a more prescient book I can't identify it.

    1984 should be required reading for our children. But soon, just like "Gone With the Wind", "1984" will be more and more banned in the public sphere.

    Thought, initially not banned by your government, but by the Wizards of Silicon Valley. The ones who hide behind a digital curtain, leading you down a yellow brick road, and adorning you with stories of how you too can have a heart.

    But as the curtain of "Do No Evil" devolves into "We Tell You What is Evil" even the most dense among us realize they live in chains.
    Chains not denoted by iron and steel, but by plastic, silicon, and lithium.

    It is incumbent upon good women and men, who believe in freedom of thought, to take a stand. For if they don't children who never read 1984 will live in 1984.

  • Not News: Big, powerful corporation uses influence to remove criticism from its records.

    News: Google re-adopts the motto "Don't Be Evil" and lives by it.

  • by John Jorsett ( 171560 ) on Friday September 01, 2017 @11:38AM (#55123457)
    Do Know Evil

"Someone's been mean to you! Tell me who it is, so I can punch him tastefully." -- Ralph Bakshi's Mighty Mouse

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