20:15 GMT +310 December 2019
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    In this Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, photo, a woman carries a fire extinguisher past the logo for Google at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai

    Just Be Evil: Google Manually Discriminates Against Conservative, Alternative Media Sites

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    Google is currently under the microscope big-time in the US, with a Department of Justice antitrust probe and a series of Congressional hearings on competition in digital markets underway. It’s nonetheless unclear whether the practices uncovered by Daily Caller will be discussed at any point.

    Yet more evidence of Google manually manipulating search results, and discriminating against alternative and independent media sites, has been unearthed - raising further questions about the firm’s vehement official denials over the years.

    In April, the campaigning efforts of independent US news outlet The Daily Caller uncovered a vast amount of incriminating documents on the silent ‘blacklisting’ policy employed by the search giant.

    Now, Daily Caller has revealed at least two other blacklists are applied to Google’s web answers feature. The first, “webanswers_url_blacklist”, relates to the company’s “featured snippets” or answer blocks, which appear when users search for questions.

    In screenshots of the blacklist shared with the outlet, instructions at the top of the page say, “to ensure the blacklist will REMOVE a URL, add a line ‘# REMOVE url’”, and “to ensure the blacklist WON’T remove a URL by accident, add ‘# PERMIT url’”, indicating the blacklist is manually edited.

    Moreover, under the policy opinion pieces - ie non-straight news stories - will also be removed from “all of newsey/political/sensitive webanswers”.

    Don’t Be-lieve You

    Google CEO Sundar Pichai told Congress in December the company does not “manually intervene on any particular search result”, although said in a recent interview with Axios the company wants to “really prevent borderline content, content which doesn’t exactly violate policies” - an obvious contradiction raising questions about what the company is really doing to impact search engine results, and why.

    Two policies - dubbed “misrepresentation” and “good neighbor” - inform the company’s “XPA news blacklist”. Maintained by Google’s Trust & Safety team and updated “as when there is a demand”, the list is used to “filter problematic [emphasis added] sites” - it was approved by Google’s head of search Ben Gomes, Google Fellow Pandu Nayak and software engineer Paul Haahr 13th August 2018.

    “The purpose of the blacklist will be to bar the sites from surfacing in any Search feature or news product. It will not cause a demotion in the organic search results or de-index them altogether,” the policy document reads - although this will in effect preclude the sites from appearing in virtually every other section of the search engine, such as “top news”, “videos” or sidebar search results.

    On the blacklist are a number of conservative US sites, including Gateway Pundit, teapartyeconomist.com, Conservative Tribune, and the American Spectator.

    In response to the expose, a Google spokesperson told The Daily Caller: “We do not manually determine the order of any search result, nor do our algorithms or policies attempt to make any judgement on the political leanings of a website”.

    “Our Google News inclusion policies are publicly available online. They provide guidelines on content and behaviors for matters like sponsored content, deceptive practices, and more. Sites that do not adhere to these policies are not eligible to appear on news surfaces or in information boxes in Search. These policies do not impact the way these sites appear in organic blue-link Google Search results,” they added.

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