Google, Hillary, and the Search Conspiracy Kooks


I’ll let you in on a little secret. I have better ways to spend my Saturdays than writing blog posts about nutso conspiracy theories. Seriously, I really do. But the conspiracy fanatics are again on a wacky rampage, this time with the ludicrous claim that Google is purposely manipulating search results to favor Hillary Clinton over racist, misogynist con-man Donald Trump.

Whether you support Hillary, Trump, or the Man in the Moon, the sheer illogic of these new conspiracy claims make a typical Federico Fellini film look staid and sane by comparison.

The fundamental problem with the vast majority of conspiracy theories is that they require the assumed perpetrators to be inept idiots. Because clearly, we’d almost never know about or even suspect conspiracies managed by the smart folks.

Case in point, the current Google/Hillary conspiracy crud.

The conspiracy nuts would have us believe that Google is purposely (and obviously!) manipulating search “autocomplete” results to de-emphasize negative completions regarding Hillary Clinton.

This makes about as much sense as running a foot race on a motorcycle. It would be immediately clear that something was amiss — and what kind of lamebrain conspiracy would that be?

Google has every reason to keep their search results useful and honest, both for purely ethical reasons and since their users can switch to other firms with a single click of the mouse.

But for the sake of the argument, if I were Google and I wanted to manipulate search results in a dastardly, evil way (cue the Darth Vader theme), I’d be trying to hide negative Hillary search results in the main Google search index, not in autocomplete.

And yet if you do a regular Google Search for any negative topics regarding Hillary Clinton — even the nuttiest ones that the haters spew on endlessly about — you’ll get enough pages of results back to keep you in hardcore conspiracy heaven for a lifetime.

So what’s the problem with Google Search autocomplete?

Nothing. Autocomplete is working exactly as it should.

In fact, if I type in “hillary e” I immediately get a list that features the silly “email indictment” stories. If I enter “hillary cr” I get back “crazy” – “crying” – “crooked” – with results pointing at vast numbers of negative, right-wing trash sites.

So why when you simply enter “hillary” don’t all those negative completions appear?

Well, for the same reason that “trump ra” returns autocomplete results like “racism” and “racist” but “trump” alone does not.

If we go back a few years, there were widely publicized complaints and even lawsuits arguing that Google Search autocomplete overemphasized “negative” or somehow “undesirable” information about some searched individuals and other topics– even though those autocomplete results were valid on an algorithmic basis.

And over time, we can see that autocomplete has evolved by returning more “generic” completions until the user’s query becomes a bit more specific.

Whether or not one personally agrees with this mode of operation, the important point is that it doesn’t favor anyone — it behaves the same way for everyone. Hillary. Trump. Even Justin Bieber.

There’s no Google search political favoritism. No conspiracy. Nothing to see here other than honest search results. Move along …

I realize that this is disappointing to Trump fans and to conspiracy aficionados in general.

But hey, there’s always other crazy conspiracy theories to keep you busy. The moon landings. The Illuminati. Yeah, and reptilian lizard people. Hell, even Francis Bacon vs. Shakespeare!

Have at it, gang!

Be seeing you.

–Lauren–
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so — my opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Why Free Speech Is Even More Important Than Privacy


Supporters of the EU’s horrific “Right To Be Forgotten” (RTBF) generally make the implicit (and sometimes explicit) argument that privacy must take precedence over free speech.

As a privacy advocate for many years (I created my ongoing PRIVACY Forum in 1992) you might expect that I’d have at least some sympathy for that position.

Such an assumption would be incorrect. At least in the context of censorship in general — and of RTBF in particular — I disagree strongly with such assertions.

It’s not because privacy is unimportant. In fact, I feel that free speech is more important than privacy precisely because privacy itself is so important!

It’s all a matter of what you know, what you don’t know, and what you don’t know that you don’t know.

Basically, there are two categories of censorship.

The first consists largely of materials that you know exist, but that you are forbidden by (usually government) edict from accessing. Such items may in practice be difficult to obtain, or simple to obtain, but in either case may carry significant legal penalties if you actually obtain them (or in some cases, even try to obtain them). An obvious example of this category is sexually-explicit materials of various sorts around the world.

Ironically, while this category could encompass everything from classic erotic literature to the most depraved pornography involving children, overall it is the lesser insidious form of censorship, since at least you know that it exists.

The even more evil type of censorship — the sort that is fundamental to the “Right To be Forgotten” concept and an essential element of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” — is the effort to hide actual information in a manner that would prevent you from even knowing that it exists in the first place.

Whether it’s a war with “Eastasia” or a personal past that someone would prefer that you not know about, the goal is for you not to realize, to not even suspect, that some negative information is out there that you might consider to be relevant and important.

Combine this with the escalating RTBF demands of France and other countries for global censorship powers over Google’s and other firms’ search results, and it becomes clear why privacy itself can be decimated under RTBF and similar forms of censorship.

Because if individual governments — some of whom already impose draconian information controls domestically — gain global censorship powers, we can’t possibly assume that we even know what’s really going on in respect to negative impacts on our privacy!

In other words, RTBF and similar forms of censorship can act to hide from us the very existence of entities, facts and efforts that could be directly damaging to our privacy in a myriad number of ways.  And if we don’t know that these even exist, how can we possibly make informed evaluations of our privacy and the privacy of our loved ones?

To make matters worse, much of this applies not only to privacy issues, but to an array of crucial security issues as well.

Attempting to maintain privacy and security in a regime of global censorship designed to hide facts from the public — irrespective of the occasionally laudable motives for such actions in some specific cases — is like trying to build a skyscraper on a foundation of quicksand.

You don’t need to be an architect, a computer scientist — or a privacy expert — to recognize the insanity of such an approach.

–Lauren–
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so — my opinions expressed here are mine alone.

France’s Guillotining of Global Free Speech Continues


The war between France and Google — with France demanding that Google act as a global censor, and Google appealing France’s edicts — shows no signs of abating, and the casualty list could easily end up including most of this planet’s residents.

As soon as the horrific “Right To Be Forgotten” (RTBF) concept was initially announced by the EU, many observers (including myself) suspected that the “end game” would always be global censorship, despite efforts by Google and others to reach agreements that could limit EU censorship to the EU itself.

This is the heart of the matter. France — and shortly we can be sure a parade of such free speech loathing countries like Russia, China, and many others — is demanding that Google remove search results for third-party materials on a global basis from all Google indexes around the world.

What this means is that even though I’m sitting right here in Los Angeles, if I dare to write a completely accurate and USA-legal post that the French government finds objectionable, France is demanding the right to force Google (and ultimately, other search engines and indexes) to remove key references to my posting from Google and other search results. For everyone. Everywhere. Around the world. Because of … France.

It’s nonsensical on its face but incredibly dangerous. It’s a dream of every dictator and legions of bureaucrats down through history, brought to a shiny 21st century technological reality.

You don’t have to be a computer scientist to realize that if every country in the world has a veto power over global search results, the lightspeed race to the lowest common denominator of sickly search results pablum would make Einstein’s head spin.

Proponents of these censorship regimes play the usual sorts of duplicitous word games of censorship czars throughout history. They claim it’s for the good of all, and that it’s not “really” censorship since “only” search results are involved.

Well here’s something you can take to the bank. Let’s leave aside for the moment the absolute truth that — given the enormous scale of the Web — hiding search results is effectively largely the same as hiding most source content itself as far as most people are concerned. But even if we ignore this fact, the truth of the matter is that it won’t be long before these same governments are also demanding the direct censorship of source material websites as well as search results.

However small the “forbidden information” leakage past the censorship of search results themselves, government censors will never be satisfied. They never are. In the history of civilization, they’ve never been satisfied.

A grand irony of course is that the very rise of Internet technology has been the potential enabler of centrally-mandated censorship to a degree never imagined even twenty years ago. For those of us who’ve spent our professional lives working to build these systems to foster the open spread of information, seeing our technologies turned into the tools of tyrants is disheartening to say the least.

It is however encouraging that firms like Google are continuing to fight the good fight against governments’ censorship regimes. Frankly, it will take firms on the scale of Google — along with support by masses of ordinary folks like us — to have any chance at all of keeping France and other governments around the world from turning the Internet into their own personal information control fiefdoms.

–Lauren–
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so — my opinions expressed here are mine alone.