Google’s Code of Conduct used to contain the phrase, “Don’t be evil.” But numerous leaked documents, videos and reports raise the question: Is Google, in fact … being evil? This is a critical question we must ask of one of the most powerful and influential companies in the world.
Google searches account for more than 90 percent of queries on the Internet, giving it an enormous advantage in data analysis—and that’s not including data obtained from their other products, such as Gmail and Google Docs. And the fact is, you don’t even have to use Gmail or Chrome for Google to gain access to your information.
Countless universities, corporations, and even media outlets use Google platforms to support their emails and other products. This allows Google access to information in users’ emails, internet searches, and documents without their knowledge.
Apple’s CEO Tim Cook recently warned of the “data-industrial complex” and how our own digital footprints and information are being “weaponized against us with military efficiency.” Authoritarian regimes throughout history would have surrendered prized treasures for this level of access and control of information.
In fact, Google seems ready to help just such a regime right now: it appears prepared to help China develop a search engine that censors information and helps one of the biggest modern violators of human rights continue to oppress its people.
This work with China, known as the Dragonfly Project, has caused Google employees to quit and 1400 others to sign a letter seeking more transparency about the project. In response to a story about this project CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted, “Google motto ‘don’t be evil’ replaced by ‘XXX be evil.’”
China’s censorship-centric search engine may be just the start. Recently, an internal Google presentation called, “The Good Censor,” leaked to the media. It refers to free speech as a “utopian narrative” and speaks of the need for tech companies to balance “free speech” with “user welfare.”
So, Google views itself and other platforms as a global parent who decides what media is good or bad for our consumption?
Google’s response to the leaked presentation was that it should be viewed as internal research. This is their way of saying, “move along, nothing to see here.” What’s especially frightening is “The Good Censor” makes Dragonfly look less like a China-specific project and more like a roadmap for the future of the Internet.
Indeed, censorship and manipulation appear ingrained in Google’s corporate culture. In a TED talk last year, former Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris spoke of being one of hundreds of people in a room who studied how to ethically steer people’s thoughts.
Harris said each notification you receive on your phone or elsewhere “schedules you to have thoughts that maybe you didn’t intend to have.” He also said the race in technology is to get people’s attention: “The best way to get people’s attention is to know how someone’s mind works.”
If Google employees are willing to discuss shaping people’s thoughts, how long before those discussions turn into actions by using the search engine to manipulate things like elections? This is not a farfetched idea—Google has the resources available to influence elections.
Dr. Robert Epstein, a Harvard educated behavioral psychologist, is the foremost expert on Google’s ability to manipulate through its search results. His peer-reviewed research details how Google and Facebook can use their algorithms to influence our opinions on everything from dog food to elected officials without us even knowing it.
Dr. Epstein was the first to discover the Search Engine Manipulation Effect, one of the largest behavioral effects ever found, which shows how the placement of search results can impact our opinions on a candidate. In some cases, it can influence 80% of a group to move from one position to another. Russia couldn’t spend enough to buy this type of influence.
Dr. Epstein estimates that Google has the capacity to influence the outcome of approximately 25 percent of democratic elections worldwide. And he recently wrote about 10 different ways Google and Facebook could sway 12 million votes during this election cycle.
The Trump administration and Congress would do well to invite Dr. Epstein to present his findings and learn about Google’s ability to manipulate people and influence both our economy and elections without our knowledge.
If Google wants to dispel the growing notion it’s doing evil by propping up authoritarian regimes and possibly influencing democratic elections, it needs to give us some real, honest answers.
M.A Taylor is the director of the new documentary film The Creepy Line.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.