Sunday, June 12, 2016
Google’s autocomplete function seems to be tilted in favor of Hillary Clinton, a report says, but the company denied that it skews results for any candidate.
According to a SourceFed video posted Thursday Google’s search engine yields different, less critical autocomplete results for some Clinton-related phrases than similar searches on Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Inc. products.
For example, SourceFed noted in a video on Google’s own YouTube service that typing “Hillary Clinton cri” on Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing suggest phrases that link Hillary Clinton to crime. Similarly, typing “Hillary Clinton ind” on Yahoo and Bing suggest phrases that link Hillary Clinton to the possibility of being indicted as a result of her email records.
On Google, however, typing “Hillary Clinton cri” results in suggestions for “Hillary Clinton crime reform” and “Hillary Clinton crisis.” Similarly, a search for “Hillary Clinton ind” brings up suggestions on Hillary Clinton and Indiana, independents and India, and not indictment.
(A MarketWatch reporter’s attempts found the same results on all three sites as described on the video.)
A Google spokeswoman denied that the company is manipulating any form of search results in favor of a specific presidential candidate, and said that the filters work the same for those searches as for any other term. She also provided a statement detailing the company’s use of autocomplete.
“Autocomplete predictions are produced based on a number of factors including the popularity of search terms. Our systems are periodically updated to improve search, and our users’ search activity varies, so the terms that appear in autocomplete may change over time,” she said in an email. “Additionally, our systems automatically filter a small set of offensive or inappropriate content from autocomplete predictions.”
Search traffic for the phrases that do not appear is much greater than those that do, as SourceFed pointed out. For instance, a Google Trends search shows that “Hillary Clinton indictment” has been a much more popular search term throughout the first few months of 2016 than any of the other options Google search offers when the term begins to be entered into the search engine.
SourceFed also showed that common negative searches for Clinton’s Democratic primary competitor and presumed general election foe — Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, respectively — appeared near the top of autocomplete results.
SearchFed’s findings add to complaints last week that Google autocomplete was not showing a negative nickname that Trump has been using for Clinton, though SearchEngineLand’s Danny Sullivan demonstrated that a negative nickname for Trump also failed to show up in Google’s suggestions.
SourceFed also noted in its video that former Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt reportedly financially supports a data-analytics startup that is one of the major technology vendors for Clinton. While still executive chairman of parent company Alphabet, Schmidt has not had a day-to-day role at Google since stepping down as CEO in early 2011.