Ethics Hero: Google

Yesterday, Google demoted its own Google Chrome homepage in pagerank for at least 60 days following the revelation that the browser’s online advertising campaign violated Google’s policy banning the use of paid links. Google had contracted with an outside firm to handle Chrome’s the campaign, and it mutated into a scheme where bloggers were paid to link to a video that extolled the virtues of Chrome to small businesses.

Thus Google was violating its own policies, the stated punishment for which is demotion in search results. Google says that it didn’t know that its sub-contractor was doing this, but nonetheless issued this statement:

We’ve investigated and are taking manual action to demote and lower the site’s PageRank for a period of at least 60 days. We strive to enforce Google’s webmaster guidelines consistently in order to provide better search results for users. While Google did not authorize this campaign, and we can find no remaining violations of our webmaster guidelines, we believe Google should be held to a higher standard, so we have taken stricter action than we would against a typical site.”

Today, if you do a Google search for “browser,” Chrome doesn’t appear on the first page of results.

Living by your own rules is the mark of integrity. This time, Google delivered.

22 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Google

  1. Google also refused Rick Santorum’s request to remove the “definition” from it’s search results, saying that the company does not remove content from search results.

    • I almost included that. I think I agree with their decision. It’s a legitimate, if cruel and disgusting, post, and the links are genuine. I don’t see how they could demote Dan Savage’s hit job without getting in the reputation protection business.

      • I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Santorum google bomb go away some day. Technically speaking, I think it represents a weakness in google’s algorithms, and given how it’s being used, I’m sure they’d like to fix it. Obviously, they could fix it manually, but once they start down that road, where will it end? Pretty soon people would be suing them (even more) over search results. Right now they can say they’re just showing the results of a content-neutral, politics-neutral, religion-neutral algorithm. Still, the key question for Google should always be “Do these results satisfy the user’s reason for that search?” In the Santorum case, probably not (except for people who are specifically looking for the google-bomb result). That’s a legitimate reason to suppress google-bombs. The problem for Google, however, is coming up with way to block google-bombs without damaging legitimate search results in the process.

        • There is no weakness in the Google algorithm with regards to the “santorum” search results. The reason the Dan Savage website is listed at the top is strictly due to the number of sites linking to it. And after 8+ years the number of links has grown cementing its placement at the top. Thus, it is not a Google bomb (an intent to game the algorithm) but instead a validly displayed link.

          Now that Rick Santorum ended up within eight votes of a first place finish this controversy has taken on new light because people want to find out more about him. You believe that the Savage site doesn’t “satisfy the user’s search” but I disagree. It may not satisfy all searches but there are also a lot of people interested in his stance on homosexuality.

          • I have to agree with Gregory here. It’s not a Google bomb—the placing is legit. As I wrote about Savage’s gag earlier, it was a cruel thing to do, but all the links to it are genuine, and Savage’s attack site really has been the Santorum site that sparked the most interest on the net.

  2. Well done, Google.
    There may be some suspicious, snarky comments made about this, but if one were to do the right thing in this situation–this is probably what it’d look like.
    Well done.

  3. Sorry-but I disagree totally that Google is ethical. If you have ever been the subject of a defamatory or hate blog on Blogger then you would know what a nightmare Google is when trying to have libels removed.
    Under the banner of ‘freedom of speech’ Google allows that important premise to be a cover for the vilest of libels to be perpetuated. The rich can access the law but ordinary citizens cannot. When Google puts in place a process where the ordinary man in the street can have defamatory content removed without spending their life savings, then they may be regarded as ethical.You cannot be ethical.on some matters and not others.

    • 1. I have been such a subject–several times.
      2. “Libels” are a matter of opinion. There is no objective standard for libel that Google could employ.
      3. “Freedom of speech” isn’t a banner, it’s a principle. And libel, if it is libel, isn’t protected speech. Insults are. Criticism is.
      4. If removing so called libel is so easy for the rich, why is the “Santorum” definition still up? I know of no example of Google being forced to remove a so-called libel.
      5. “You cannot be ethical on some matters and not others.” Sure you can! In fact, everyone is.

      • I’m disappointed that you would say that libel is a “matter of opinion”. A libel is a libel is a libel. I mean that in the strictest legal sense.
        An opinion is something else and everyone is entitled to one and to express it. They can say they hate me and I am a fool etc but they cannot say I have broken the law or similar false accusations.
        Freedom of speech may be a principal but that doesn’t mean the freedom to defame of falsely accuse. Never has been and never should be.
        And that is what I am talking about. Google do not act ethically when persons attempt to have libel and defamations removed from the websites they host.
        They provide endless hoops for the libeled to jump through and then demand you contact the website owner or blogger. And there is the problem because Google allow anonymous and non traceable persons to open accounts and blogs and perpetuate lies- and I am mean legally actionable defamations-knowing that the perpetuator of those libels cannot be traced.
        There have been several successful actions against bloggers and Google’s search engine for libel in countries (apart from the USA) and I know one is pending in Australia that will enjoin Google in the lawsuit (where incidently the Joseph Gutnick v Dow Jones established that being hosted in the USA does not exclude a publisher from liability). Max Mosley is suing Google in France to have content removed ( I believe he will be succesful).Google will remove content with a court order but that really shows that only those with deep pockets can force action out of Google. As it is , libel laws everywhere are basically the domain of the rich which is undemocratic.
        I am well aware of the law in the USA where Google facilitates a service and thus exempts itself from being a ‘publisher’ but I believe that law is bad law and was made hastily in deference to giants like Google. However I predict many European countries will be testing just how responsible Google should be. Nearly every other country-apart from the USA- law can enjoin everyone in the process of a libel from the printer to publisher, writer editor and so on. Most actions however are usually against the publisher.
        Google could avoid all this by having a credible avenue where the defamed could -after proving a libel without a court action-have the content removed. As it is-if there are successful cases outside the USA (as there have been in Italy and elsewhere) they are not doing anyone any favour.
        And my opinion -one correct act does not an ethical company make.

        • I agree that the “‘libels'” are a matter of opinion” was sloppily worded. Libel isn’t opinion, but I think the point Jack was getting at is that some people consider criticisms and insults to be libel.

          Late in your article you state the following:

          Google could avoid all this by having a credible avenue where the defamed could -after proving a libel without a court action-have the content removed.

          Since libel is a legal tort, this is a silly idea. How can someone prove a legal tort without going through the courts? Should google have it’s own justice system that balances the rights of the accused against the complainers? They should pay for this because you demand it?

          What you don’t seem to like is the law around libel and the protections of the U.S. constitution.

          • No I don’t necessarily dis-like the laws around libel but I believe laws and torts that can only be accessed (in reality) by the rich are un-democratic. The laws ‘around’ libel are also different in many countries but as I said previously-the famous Joseph Gutnick v Dow Jones case established that US residents can be sued in other forums. There are good and bad points because of that decision but it’s a ticking time bomb for Google/
            As we have discovered in recent decades, protections under the U.S Constitution are a maleable thing as recent actions by the US government to kill a US citizen deemed to be a ‘terrorist’ demonstrate (apart from the constant fraying at the edges of those protections).
            However I admire your spirited defense of Google, a for profit corporation now seeking great riches via the stock exchange.
            My own view-I really like Google and Blogger but yes, why shouldn’t they provide an avenue for the wronged to seek corrections ?.

  4. Being named an Ethics Hero means that a person’s or company’s act is ethically heroic, but not that the person or company as a whole is, right? Because I agree that in this case Google did the right thing when it would have been easy and potentially beneficial not to, but I otherwise think of Google as increasingly unethical. As it broadens into new services, more and more of its practices strike me as unethical invasions of privacy and manipulations of content. I’m so fed up with it that I stopped using the search engine as of a few months ago. Here’s my post on the topic at my own blog:

    • Edward, Your comment strikes me as disingenuous. According to you, Google search became a little to close for comfort because they displayed results based upon your IP address. Your solution: Bing. Yet, they do the same thing.

      It sounds more like you have a problem with a company in general. How can you lump everything Google does into one entire bucket of “unethical” but then cherry pick the services that meet your needs? Gmail? I can tell you they’re learning much more about you as a person from the email account then your random searches. But you claim “it would be difficult” to change accounts. Seems to me like if you were a man of convictions that you’d opt for another free email service.

      And by the way, your blog is hosted by Google. Might want to change that too.

      • Gregory, my issue with Google is the pervasiveness of its information gathering and content manipulation. I’m sure you’re right that Bing manipulates search results based on my IP address, as well, but Google changes results based on a wide variety of other factors. It is not obvious to me that Bing does this.

        If you know of a reasonably effective search engine that doesn’t manipulate results at all, let me know and I’ll switch to it immediately. If there isn’t one, would you suggest that I stop using search engines altogether? I don’t think that’s feasible. I don’t think being a person of convictions should cripple one’s ability to engage with the modern world.

        I signed up for my Gmail and Blogger accounts long before I noticed these objectionable trends. Abandoning them would be a professional detriment to me. Currently, I am trying to limit Google’s access to my personal data by abandoning the search engine and avoiding new services. If the trends continue, I will in fact take the additional step, but in the meantime I don’t think it belies my convictions that I maintain a portion of my dealings with a company about which I have some ethical questions.

        Perhaps that’s a rationalization, but really, my issues with Google are with its search engine and the way that its various other services are linked to that search engine without my consent. The Blogger and Gmail services, isolated from that search engine, do not concern me as yet.

        • Edward, Search engines don’t “manipulate results.” That would tinkering with the rankings (an unethical act). They are in competition with one another to provide the most relevant results. You use them because you’re looking for something. If you type “chinese restaurant” into a search engine–it will guess, with a high degree of probability, that you’re looking for a place to eat. As such, it is more important (and useful for you) to display restaurants located in your area.

          But singling out Google doesn’t seem rational. It sounds like you’re more fearful of Big Brother then understanding and learning about technology.

      • Everyone should be wary of the “Google Love-in”. Saying that a person ‘cherry-picks” the parts of the service might be correct but should not exclude legitimate complaints about the service. Or you may as well say you have no right to drive down that pot holed road and complain.

    • Yes indeed…both Ethics Dunce and Ethics Hero extend to one instance, not all-around conduct over time. Several individuals—Obama, Ron Paul, Clinton, McCain…have been both.

      Google’s willingness to kowtow to China’s censorship was an overwhelming example of what you refer to.

    • You will find other blog services do provide much better customer service than Google and this is a shame as Blogger and Google are obviously fantastic products.
      However I believe their power and strength in the market is becoming an arrogance. And as pointed out elsewhere-they cave in when it suits as in China.
      Wordpress for instance will remove blogs immediately if you can prove your lawful business name is being used without permission. Google and Blogger will not. And see how far you get if you use Google’s name without permission.

    • I have no desire to see violent videos but it does show that Freedom of Speech is as limited as the government,Youtube or Google will allow. That should worry everyone far more than violent videos.

  5. In a desperate attempt to find a source that could confrontthis (Google) gangster I came across this post. Google Chrome searches for my domain name have consistently retuned results with taged words on titles within pages of my web site for outside pop-up advertisers. This does not ever happen with any other browser. This huge arrogant company knows they have the deep pockets to ward off most legal confrontations and they count on the ambiguous nature of Internet regulation to shield them from being exposed for what they are and it is not ethical.

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