Ethics Dunce And Dead Ethics Alarms Don’t Begin To Describe This Admission By The Duck Duck Go CEO

Wow.

What an idiot.

Those who use Duck Duck Go do so (or did so) because the search engine was deemed more trustworthy than Google, the high-tech monster that breaches user privacy regularly and lies about it, as well as plays games with its search algorithms to bolster its ideological agenda, all while actively engaging in censorship with its wholly owned platform, YouTube.

Now Duck Duck Go’s CEO, Gabriel Weinberg, actually boasts about manipulating search results to “highlight” what the company, in its vast and unquestioned wisdom, deems “quality” information, while burying links to what it calls disinformation.

Only dead ethics alarms could explain why he thinks this is a positive revelation. He is admitting that his platform engages in censorship, and does not support free expression, dissenting opinions, or controversial views. As a mass of critical Twitter commenters pointed out, by what divine guidance does he or his underlings know what is “disinformation”? The arrogance is staggering. What does “associated” mean? It is an open ended generality to allow silencing by association. But that’s not all:

  • Weinberg is madly virtue-signaling, presuming that Russia-hate will lead his search engine’s users to applaud a confession that Duck Duck Go will manipulate results when it feels like it, because rigging searches will only hurt “bad people.” I don’t trust Big Tech execs to decide who are bad people; too many of them are bad people. Nobody should.
  • It is more proof (on top of thousands of years of human folly)  that those with power can’t resist abusing that power.
  • His admission of the practice, and the practice itself, is gross incompetence. All Duck Duck Go had going for it was an image of trust. No one can trust a company run by someone who says, openly and without shame, “We manipulate our searches because we know best!” It is signature significance: no ethical executive would approve of  such a policy.

The company’s board should fire Weinberg immediately, and if it doesn’t, its members are as unethical, irresponsible and dim-witted as he is.

23 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce And Dead Ethics Alarms Don’t Begin To Describe This Admission By The Duck Duck Go CEO

  1. In the meantime, I’ve migrated from DDG to Brave (https://search.brave.com). Looks like the best alternative for the time being.
    I’ve been using their browser on my phone for a while and works reasonably well. (I also use Vivaldi on the laptop… yes, I may have a bit of a geekery problem).

    • I plan to try out Startpage, Qwant, Search Encrypt, Gibiru, Yippy, Swisscows, MetaGer, and Infinity Search. There are lots of options, but I don’t know if any of them are great. All of the listed claim to protect privacy.

  2. This appears to be more of being transparent than making a damning confession. Every search engine has to “manipulate” the results, because there is no possible objective standard by which to judge the merits of a website. It is a cat and mouse game of spammers who reverse-engineer the engine’s algorithms to bump their low effort crap, and company’s tweaking their algorithms to avoid point customers to knock off viagra and viruses (human or computer). The whole internet is built on trust. We trust when we type in a web address, we are taken to that site. Any number of viruses or other malicious acts can send us elsewhere.

    As to specifically admitting they down-prioritize state sponsored content from adversaries, let us look at this from a different angle. Let’s say China makes a face White House website, and manipulates it to be the top search result. Would Google be an ethics dunce for doing nothing about that, saying it “organically” rose to the top? Or do they have a duty to remove a clearly fake result?

    Now let’s say China created a thousand fake newspapers overnight, and manipulated them to the top of the results. Suddenly, everyone is learning about how happy and healthy the Uighurs are, and that it was all western propaganda they were being mistreated. Does Google have a duty to let these results “organically” rise to the top, or does it have a duty to fix its algorithm to de-prioritize or block the content?

    Now let’s say Russia creates fake news sources, and manipulates them to the top of the search results. Do search engines have a duty to fix their algorithm, or let the state-sponsored content naturally float to the top?

    Now, let’s say the search engines do manipulate their results to avoid showing state-sponsored content and/or flag it as such. Which website engaging in this behavior do you trust more:
    – The one that openly admits that it is doing it?
    – The one that asserts there is no manipulation?

    • Well said, Rich. It would be impossible for a search engine to function without some kind of algorithm that prioritizes some information over others; if there weren’t, all you’d get on almost any search would be ads and porn. Complaints about the existence of such algorithms strike me as very un-tech-savvy, and I say that as a not-particularly tech-savvy person myself.

      Jack: “As a mass of critical Twitter commenters pointed out, by what divine guidance does he or his underlings know what is “disinformation”?”

      You don’t need divine guidance to figure this out, you just need training in discerning reliable sources from unreliable sources. Do the people at DuckDuckGo have this training? I have no idea. Should they? Absolutely. Are they probably better at it than the average Internet user? I’d wager yes.

      Of course, Beyonce’s Internet is a very big place, and any search engine is going to get things wrong from time to time. There will be sites incorrectly labeled as disinformation, sometimes due to bias, sometimes due to malice, but usually, due to human or robot error. That’s an inevitable cost of fighting hostile propaganda, and we can differ on whether the goal is worth it. But to suggest that it’s just not possible to distinguish between real news and fake is to feed into the current unethical, post-truth culture.

      • Algorithms are not anywhere near as complicated as the general public seems to think they are. All an algorithm is is a list of steps for a computer to take in a particular order. A = B + C is an algorithm. It takes me 2 seconds to make a computer do that.

        Search functionality is both more and less complicated than people think. Yes, it is difficult to figure out how to make a computer search through large quantities of data quickly. No, it is not difficult to add parameters that include news sources without censorship. You mark them all as news sources equally without adding your opinions to the criteria.

        The censorship is deliberate, not a result of complexity.

    • That’s a lot of straw men for a single comment, Rich!

      I’d trust the search engine that had a clear policy about what constituted “misinformation” that wasn’t open to bias, manipulation or political censorship. A fake White House website is fraud: no judgment needed. That’s a clear line. Requiring state sponsored content to self-identify is also a clear policy. What this guy said is anything but clear and trustworthy.

      Sure, I give some ethics points for admitting that the site cheats. That’s better than lying about it. But admitting wrongdoing while you continue to do it doesn’t count for much, and BOASTING about it makes one a Fick: being unethical and proud of it.

    • This reminds of a conversation our then-eleven year son had with a friend of his. She made a statement about something and our son disagreed. They talked back and forth until she stated, authoritatively, that she was right because she read it on the internet. My son’s rejoinder was classic because he said, “well, we both can’t be right be I read the exact opposite on the internet, too.” They finally agreed to table the whole mess and eat ice cream.

      jvb

  3. “This appears to be more of being transparent than making a damning confession.”
    Not so sure about that Rich but excellent insight. So what you’re saying is the guy just didn’t explain himself very well?
    It would have been quite interesting to see the reaction if he used your illuminating explanation.

    I don’t know this guy but these days for some, virtue signaling, even just the prospect of being known for *the right kind* of virtuous, is like a drug with side effects that often compromise judgement and common sense.

  4. Or allowing a social media mob to dictate content when they lack context!

    https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/mark-hamill-gay-tweet-investigated-003600102.html

    I love Luke Skywalker and he is certainly endorsing a false narrative in the FL bill, but this is what happens when a mob decides it doesn’t like what you say or write. I wonder if Mark will rethink any thoughts he may have about censoring content that a handful of yahoos have decided should be disallowed because they misunderstood?

    • “but this is what happens when a mob decides it doesn’t like what you say or write”

      A tweet is investigated and then found not to violate a foreign law or a website’s terms of service? Heaven forbid!

      Hammil seems to be responding to this with his typical good humor, so I don’t think it’s causing him to reconsider anything, nor should it.

  5. I’d be fine if the management of a search engine provider stated that they attempt to identify and counter attempts to artificially manipulate search engine rankings, or otherwise eliminate threats to the integrity of their engine’s results, but I have very little confidence in these people’s ability to distinguish between actual misinformation and information that they happen to consider wrong.

  6. This brings to mind a discussion I watched recently on Megyn Kelly’s podcast. What our government (and by extension NATO) really, really needs to decide upon is what is the outcome we are actually trying to achieve in Ukraine?

    It’s easy to say, well, we want an independent Ukraine totally free of Russian troops. But. If that were our actual government policy is it realistically possible to achieve without a crushing defeat for Russia. And, if that were to happen what would Putin’s response be if he saw his armies being routed?

    What do we do if he starts using nukes? What do we do if he starts using chemical weapons? Historically, NATO’s position vis a vis the Soviets was that chemicals equaled nuclear weapons, as did bio weapons, and we would respond to gas attacks with nukes.

    As well, at some point we will have to deal with Russia again — they will still be a major power and will still have lots of oil and gas 6 or 12 months from now. How many bridges do we want to burn right now?

    I do support Ukraine and have been agreeably surprised by how well they’ve done so far. But I also think we need to be realistic about their long term chances.

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