Kashmir Hill, now a senior reporter for Gizmodo, wrote that she was working for Forbes in 2011 during the roll-out of Google's ill-fated social network, Google Plus, (six years later, less than one percent of Google's users have a Plus account and only a fraction of that minority actually use the network with any regularity, according to Forbes).
But in 2011, Google Plus was generating significant buzz, with outlets like the IB Times saying it was "poised to overshadow Facebook." The key consideration for this was that the integration of Plus with Google's many other successful features, such as the eponymous search engine, would extend Alphabet's dominance to the world of social networks as well.
Hill wrote that Google intended to tie search engine results to Plus, encouraging Forbes and other outlets to add Plus' "+1" social button to articles because Plus recommendations would improve an article's search results on Google.
Or, to put it another way, according to Hill: "if a publisher didn't put a +1 button on the page, [then their] search results would suffer." She asked Google's representatives if this was correct, and they told her yes.
She adds that she followed up by approaching Google's public relations team, who she claims told her that the Plus button "influences the ranking." They didn't deny that excluding the +1 button would damage an article's Google search results.
Hill wrote an article titled "Stick Google Plus Buttons on Your Pages, or Your Search Traffic Suffers," and published it on Forbes. "The Google guys explained how the new recommendation system will be a factor in search," Hill wrote in 2011. "Universally, or just among Google Plus friends? I asked. 'Universal' was the answer. 'So if Forbes doesn't put +1 buttons on its pages, it will suffer in search rankings?" I asked. Google guy says he wouldn't phrase it that way, but basically yes."
Google was not pleased. "A Google spokesperson told me that I needed to unpublish the story because the meeting had been confidential," Hill wrote on Gizmodo, adding that she had never signed any non-disclosure agreements, that she had never been told the meeting was confidential, that she had identified herself as a journalist during the meeting, and that Google never denied the veracity of her piece.
Hill went on to say that continued pressure from her bosses caused her to take down the story — "a decision I will always regret," she said. But even with the story down, a cached version remained on Forbes' website. According to Hill, the cached version vanished from Google's search results as though it had been scrubbed away.
Hill admits that she has no "hard evidence", but she accuses Google of "deliberately manipulating search results to eliminate references to a story that Google doesn't like." This is, to her, an "extraordinary, almost dystopian abuse of the company's power over information on the internet."
Google higher-ups denied the charge of search engine manipulation. "We raised concern that a reporter was publishing information taken from a confidential meeting to Forbes' editors and they chose to remove it," Rob Shilkin, Google's vice president of global communications, told the Daily Caller in regards to Hill's article. "Regarding the claim that the story was removed from search results quickly, it's trivial for a website owner to request its cache to be cleared. We had nothing to do with removing the article from the cache."
Thus far, Forbes have yet to comment on Hill's article.
The hits keep coming against Alphabet, Inc. and their flagship Google search engine, who have been accused of manipulating journalists and think tanks to only provide positive press. The scandalous accusations come just one day after an explosive New York Times article alleging that Barry Lynn, a renowned anti-monopolist scholar, was fired from his think tank New America for publishing an article criticizing Google as a monopoly. Google, Alphabet, Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, and Schmidt's foundation are the primary financial benefactors of New America.