Search Quality > Politics

[I wrote this in January 2008 but never posted it. I think people might still want to read this, so I'm posting it now.]

In an election year, everybody gets a little more sensitive about politics, so I wanted a write a pre-emptive post in case anyone accuses Google of political bias in our search results sometime this year.

This is my personal opinion, but in my way of looking at the world, search quality > politics. That is, preserving the quality and accuracy of our search results is the best way we can help our users, while skewing our search algorithms to espouse a particular political party’s viewpoint would be anathema. This month I finish my eighth year at Google and begin my ninth (geez, I’m old), and in that entire time I can’t remember even the tiniest suggestion to bias Google’s search results toward any political party. The trust of our users is important, and in my opinion it would be an abuse of that trust to skew our search results toward any particular political view. I suspect that if you checked with old-timers at other search engines, they’d say similar things.

18 Responses to Search Quality > Politics (Leave a comment)

  1. It says something doesn’t it… when I have more faith in a search engine than a political party. Mind you… these days, my faith in British politics isn’t hard to beat. Heck, if Google had someone run for PM, I’d vote for them.

    As for the SERPs, just leave it to Rupert (scumbag) Murdoch to put his 2 pennies in;
    http://www.davidnaylor.co.uk/the-serps-as-an-election-battleground.html

    I also love it how certain parties ‘dabble’ in SEO for other parties keywords. Quite funny what some of them do!

    Anyhooo, on to sex and religion…

  2. If they apply SEO in their Campaign online they might rank. On the other hand some might do link manipulation to its contra-party for bad reputation. can be..

  3. Hey Matt, I completely agree with your conclusion and with most of your reasoning, but I disagree with one point. It’s not that Search Quality is greater than Politics. It’s that Search Engines humbly take no position on political issues. I think Politics, Religion, Charitable Causes, etc., are more important than Search Quality, but I completely agree that we trust you to play it straight on these issues, and that skewing your results according to team members’ ideologies would be a betrayal of that trust.

  4. There’s nothing more that ‘flames the passions’ of our gut when it comes to Sex, Religion and Politics! We can hope for the best and expect the worse regarding postings from the throngs of loyal follower’s supporting their parties’ agendas.

    As far as skewing results goes… the only time I felt that Google displayed any bias was when Google displayed a logo doodle for a celebrity birthday over a political person that I felt more important per our nation’s history.
    But I guess it wasn’t such as big deal to me at the time, because I forgot the Google doodle. (I’m getting old too… sigh)

  5. I don’t see how anybody worth mentioning could have accused Google of political bias. To me, that would be so far off from Google’s reputation and what it represents, that I don’t think such pre-emptive posts are even necessary. Then again, this is probably why you haven’t published it in the first place.

  6. Interesting how some big names in Google were being used by parties however, in the UK and in the US … it seems that having the illusion of Google on side is as good as having the serps.

    I was just thinking that who ever has the most money is possibly the most able to have the most influence on SERPS – but the reality is that its almost the most smart with a bit of money and a good understanding of the search and social media landscape.

    In the UK the PPC battle between the Sun (paper) and the Labour party has certainly been interesting.

  7. Depending on the country/region, bias may be a non-issue. In many cases, there is very little to choose from if anything among at least the major parties…it’s all about how it’s perceived.

    One of the keys to this post is how a search engine presents viewpoints and materials that may either not be in the mainstream or may not be fully accepted by the mainstream. One of the things Google has always done well is to present that information and let users make informed judgements for themselves, regardless of what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s gay pride, white pride, black pride, Asian pride, Christian pride, Muslim pride, whatever…Google presents the information and leaves it to the user to make up his/her own mind as to what they want to believe, as it should be. They’re not the moral arbiters of the world, and they don’t pretend to be. Big up to Big G for that.

    If anything, though, sometimes they go a bit too far. I can’t count the number of times I’ve found a gay website when I’m looking up something completely unrelated. I’m okay with whatever you choose to be (gay, straight, bi, lesbian, curious, whatever) as long as no one gets hurt. I just don’t want to see a site promoting gay hotels when I’m looking up Northern Ontario tourism boards, that’s all. Mind you, that happened a lot more in 2000-2001 than it does now, but it still happens once in a while.

  8. Google is a bit too unbiased in some respects — suggesting “torrent” as an additional search term for most movies, for instance — but search engines definitely should not be in the business of sculpting the political landscape to suit their needs. It would open up a huge can of worms and we’d all choose our search engine based on which company’s false reality makes us more comfortable (like cable news).

  9. Gerry White, I think that in many situations, creativity can be much more powerful than money. I’m glad that people didn’t perceive this as some radical post.

  10. Faith in Politics? That is just about as much nonsense as “faith in politicians”. I don’t think comparing the two is a wise idea folks. They really have little in common from a faith perspective. Matt, I don’t think Google has any intent on skewing political opinions. It is obvious that aside from Lobbying to help the government make the proper decisions in regards to internet law going forward. Google’s slogan of “Don’t be Evil” is probably a good answer towards Google opinion on the SERPs for politically oriented keyword searches.

    A real question to be asked would be: What gives Google the ability to offer so much to employees that neither Government, Small Business, or other corporations are able to offer? Is Google just wealthy and able to spread the wealth, or do they have a system in place that the Government might want to consider.

    Goes back to my Tweets about Idiocracy and Wall-E and corporations bailing out the Government!

    Cheers folks… just thinking while watching the Cowboy Game! Pardon the spelling!

    Mike Stewart

  11. Chris

    Would the anti-slavery movement have gained momentum should google have been scoring results in 1600-1700′s? Maybe, maybe not. Not having a bias is not something to hang your hat on. History doesn’t give kudos for not using power to speak out against the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

  12. I would agree with you that Google has not shown any political bias. However, the potential for Google to influence politics is never far away – otherwise, why did the Chinese single out Google and ban you a few years ago?

    I’m glad you’re aware of the topic Matt, and not afraid to state your (personal) opinions.

  13. well sometimes it is quite hard to stay aside and not participate in political events… especially when you are a huge scaled company…

  14. I agree with your statement. Most of my search use is with Google and I have found it to be consistent in the way it searches and without bias with the exception of paid ads :)

  15. Two things, I think perhaps you are either always current on issues or omnipotent.
    And, your vocabulary is wider than my own…
    Anathema- had to look that one up!
    Thanks for always answering questions no one wants to ask (publicly).

    Regards.

  16. I think people just love their conspiracy theories when it comes to politics. As long as you don’t manually edit the results and you let the algorithms decide, that’s as fair and balanced as you can hope to get, in my opinion.

  17. Glad to hear this, actually. Although Google being Google – indexing content and all – seems to have more leftist content indexed than moderate/conservative.

    But then again, maybe it says a lot about the moderate/conservatives. We have jobs to work – don’t have time to go on marches or protests or scour the Internet and comment and spew out leftists “hate-ism”.

  18. Rudy

    I can only think of one situation where Google did show political bias.

    Remember the search query “miserable failure”? For over 3-4 years, Google kept the 1st and 2nd organic result going to whitehouse.gov, where the user would see a picture of George Bush. At anytime, Google could have removed/fixed that.

    But, Google only chose to remove that reference immediately after Obama became President.

    Wouldn’t the inbound links that created that reference still be there? In this case, Google definitely showed its political stripes.

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