The Corner

Google to Bias Search Engine Based on ‘Facts’

Google plans to bias its search engines in favor of the supposedly factual accuracy of the sites to which it links. From the New Scientist story:

THE internet is stuffed with garbage. Anti-vaccination websites make the front page of Google, and fact-free “news” stories spread like wildfire. Google has devised a fix — rank websites according to their truthfulness.

Google’s search engine currently uses the number of incoming links to a web page as a proxy for quality, determining where it appears in search results. So pages that many other sites link to are ranked higher. This system has brought us the search engine as we know it today, but the downside is that websites full of misinformation can rise up the rankings, if enough people link to them.

A Google research team is adapting that model to measure the trustworthiness of a page, rather than its reputation across the web. Instead of counting incoming links, the system — which is not yet live — counts the number of incorrect facts within a page. “A source that has few false facts is considered to be trustworthy,” says the team (arxiv.org/abs/1502.03519v1). The score they compute for each page is its Knowledge-Based Trust score.

As the old saying goes, there are facts — and then, there are facts. These days a lot of things are called “facts” that aren’t — often surrounding heated political and cultural controversies.

That is why I think Google’s plan will open the door for profound political, cultural, or ideological bias in what should be a neutral function. Perhaps that is the point.

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