Friday, May 27, 2005

Google Biased?

Google is an invaluable resource, but I've noticed a few stories in the news lately that somewhat dampen my enthusiasm.

From Sideline Squawk I found this story:

Web search leader Google Inc. has applied for U.S. and international patents on technology to rank stories on its news site based on the quality of the news source, according to patent applications obtained by Reuters on Thursday.

Google's search engine now automatically scours some 4,500 news sources and highlights stories, typically by popularity and timeliness.

Industry watchers said that over time Google News has come to depend on more established news providers for its content.

As Web logs and other commentary sites proliferate, postings from some have received prominent play within search result pages and on online news-gathering sites. Sometimes, such postings have carried biased or inaccurate claims.

The technology Google is attempting to patent may help the company choose the most reliable information sources, although some Web commentators have said it will create a bias toward mainstream news sources.

According to that patent application, factors determining such rankings would include: the amount of important coverage produced by an identified news source; a human opinion of that source; network traffic to the source; circulation statistics; staff size; breadth of coverage; and the number of bureaus the news source operates.
Some doubt Google's claims that the news stories that appear are randomly chosen:
One of Wednesday's leading news stories - Amnesty calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp - disappeared from the Google News home page pretty sharply.

Google, I'm sure, would insist that its news page is totally automated and that no editorial staff would have shuffled the contentious story off the Google News home page.

Meanwhile over on Yahoo's news page, the story was languishing right at the bottom of a very long page. Despite being listed under 'most popular world news' it didn't make it to the world news section.
First the news service and then the search engines:
"It sounded to me like it would be useful not just for news but for search results as well," said Chief Executive Rich Skrenta, who had not reviewed the patent applications.
Google of course has every right to decide what content is displayed to readers, but they shouldn't assert that the material is automated when it seems clear that there is at least some filtering going on. One of the most valuable aspects of google is that users can access a wide range of information, from main stream sources to personal websites and blogs. If google starts playing the censorship game, the most popular search engine might be a little less popular. Don't play nanny with your readers google: let them determine whether the information they receive is 'accurate' and 'free from bias' - and this most emphatically includes the information they receive from the mainstream media. Consensus does not necessarily equal truth.