I first called your attention to Dr. Robert Epstein in 2013. Dr. Epstein’s work on Google’s power to throw elections by manipulating public opinion was startling to many, and I got the usual eye rolling about how mistrustful I was of Google. (See “Democracy at Risk: Manipulating Search Rankings Can Shift Voting Preferences Substantially Without Voter Awareness”) That doesn’t happen much after 2016.
But–the stakes don’t have to be as high as who controls the White House for the dominant global source of information to manipulate us. Think not? Who wants to live with the consequences of losing a bet on Google’s moral compass?
Senator Rob Portman and Rep. Ann Wagner are standing up to Google (and the Internet Association) with legislation to remove the law that allows the special people in the connected class to profit from human trafficking because they’re…well, special people. Senator Portman’s bill is the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 (SESTA) and has 27 cosponsors include Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Rep. Ann Wagner’s corresponding bill in the House of Representatives is titled the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 has 111 co-sponsors. Both would amend the safe harbor in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (aka “CDA”).
Just like Google loves them some DMCA, Google especially loves them some CDA 230 safe harbor that Google and their shills argue protects them from liability for letting pimps advertise on their platforms among other vileness. (Which makes their fascination with forcing songwriters and artists to maintain a “global rights database” for Google’s protection ring even hollower.) Taken together the DMCA and CDA safe harbors give Google so much crony capitalist protection that they rival other connected class sacred cows like farm subsidies and the oil depletion allowance.
Why should Google get these even safer harbors? The answer is obvious. Because the Internet.
But after Google’s several high profile losses in the post-Obama era, it looks like Google is about to lose on the CDA safe harbor. We know this because it appears that Google is manipulating search results to affect public opinion on Google’s ability to profit from human trafficking.
According to Consumer Watchdog, which is about the only consumer group that is challenging Google’s stranglehold on the Congress not to mention reality, Google is manipulating search results to promote Google’s point of view on Section 230 reform.
This is a close analog to what Google was fined $2.7 billion for doing in Europe with commercial goods. There’s no question that they do it, the only question is whether they are doing it to you all the time without your knowing it.
And since you are the product for Google, it should not be surprising that they are doing it to promote their legislative agenda.
Internet giant Google appears to be manipulating its search engine results to favor opposition to bipartisan efforts seeking to amend a key Internet law so websites like Backpage that facilitate online sex trafficking can be held accountable, Consumer Watchdog said today.
Three of the top four links returned under the news tab for the search term “Section 230” were to articles from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a staunch opponent of amending the Internet law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Consumer Watchdog found.
Searches for news results for “Section 230” on competing search engines Bing and DuckDuckGo gave links to articles presenting all sides of the issue. View screenshots of the results from the three search engines here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/search_section_230.pdf
“Google is supposed to be an unbiased gatekeeper to information,” said John M. Simpson Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “Instead they appear to be stacking the deck to favor their own purposes. You can forget their motto; this is evil.”
Google is leading Tech industry efforts to block any amendment to Section 230, which protects websites from liability for material posted by third parties on their sites. The companies and other defenders of Section 230 claim it promotes and protects free expression on the Internet, but a U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations staff report shows that sites like Backpage aid and abet under-age sex traffickers using the blanket protection of the Act. By one count 73% of child trafficking reports in the United States involve Backpage.com.
Needless to say, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is a frequent recipient of Google’s largesse and was disclosed by Google in the Oracle case (on what came to be known as the “Google Shill List“) as a long-time beneficiary.
Here’s a video of Consumer Watchdog’s John Simpson confronting Eric Schmidt about human trafficking and Google’s Backpage connection at the Google annual shareholder meeting (which is about the only place anyone can actually question Google’s top executives directly). Schmidt appears to swallow his tongue, but was saved by his lawyer, Kent Walker (who was slated to give the keynote at the Recording Academy’s Entertainment Law Initiative a few years ago):
So much for don’t be evil.
Nicholas Kristof recently wrote an op-ed about Google’s sex trafficking problem in the New York Times:
Sex traffickers in America have the police and prosecutors pursuing them, but they do have one crucial (if secret) ally: Google.
Google’s motto has long been “Don’t be evil,” and I admire lots about the company. But organizations it funds have for years been quietly helping Backpage.com, the odious website where most American victims of human trafficking are sold, to battle lawsuits from children sold there for sex.
Now Google is using its enormous lobbying power in Washington to try to kill bipartisan legislation that would crack down on websites that promote sex trafficking.
Not only is Google using its lobbying power to protect its profits by manipulating the Congress, it is also using its control over information to manipulate public opinion against Sen. Portman’s and Rep. Wagner’s bills. This should come as no surprise to anyone who was paying attention and it certainly would come as no surprise to Dr. Epstein (for more detail, read his paper co-written with Dr. Ronald Robertson on “search engine manipulation effect” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
Why? Because as Google lawyer Kent Walker says in the video above, the Congress “was striking a blow for Good Samaritan review by Internet platforms” with CDA 230. In other words, the Congress wanted to help Good Samaritans that are “quietly helping Backpage.com….to battle lawsuits from children sold there for sex.” And Google likes their CDA just fine the way it is.
And no doubt they’ll produce some kind of survey results showing that the public thinks so, too–after Google apparently manipulates its search results for a while using its secret algorithm.
Here’s the really sick part–somebody in Google’s engineering team knows exactly what they are doing, and they are doing it in secret, in the dark, where no one can see, with deniability. Gaslighting on steroids. You know–just following orders.
But then, the Devil’s greatest trick is convincing the world he doesn’t exist.