Prof: We Need Laws to Check Google's Power
He thinks it's too easy for company to sway elections
By John Johnson, Newser Staff
Posted Mar 30, 2013 3:05 PM CDT
The Google logo.   (AP Photo/dapd, Virginia Mayo)

(Newser) – The Washington Post explores a provocative question about Google in its Outlook section tomorrow: Do we need laws in place to safeguard against the company deliberately manipulating elections? It may sound far-fetched on the surface, but the story follows the experiments of psychologist Robert Epstein, who showed that it's relatively easy to sway potential voters by manipulating search results. Epstein, though, isn't talking about Google bombs, in which outsiders try to rig results. What if the folks inside Google—if not the current leaders, but the next generation 20 years from now—subtly changed their algorithms to give an edge to a favorite candidate?

It would be nearly impossible to detect, and the very possibility should have us worried, argues Epstein. Others agree. "Elections are won among low-information voters," says Eli Pariser, former president of ­MoveOn.org. "The ability to raise a negative story about a candidate to a voter ... could be quite powerful." Epstein will formally present his findings this spring at a psychology forum, but Google disputes the premise. "Providing relevant answers has been the cornerstone of Google’s approach to search from the very beginning," it says. "It would undermine people’s trust in our results and company if we were to change course." (Click for the full story, which notes that Epstein's research was prompted by a public beef he had with the company.)

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Showing 3 of 21 comments
phritz
Mar 31, 2013 7:00 PM CDT
googleis NOT just a search engine. google is the most sophisticated data mining operation ever devised. the only other scheme to compare is facebook. people scream bloody murder about privacy issues until it's time to tell the world that their pet frog just had polywogs,or they read the paper on line and see ads from the last two places you shopped on-line. you are giving away your anonymity to big internet brother
ChopperPilot
Mar 31, 2013 4:46 PM CDT
What a stupid idea. It is a service....if you don't like it, then don't use it.
Ultraworld
Mar 31, 2013 3:56 PM CDT
Notice he didn't say we have to regulate oil companies from buying politicians, fixing elections. No we need to regulate a search engine.