At an online press event today, as well as in a blog post, Google executives discussed those reforms. The biggest change appears to be in its Autocomplete program, the feature in which Google recommends a search based on what you’ve typed up until now.
The company says it will now delete any Autocomplete predictions that seem to support or oppose a candidate or political party, or make a claim to vote or to the electoral process. That would mean removing assumptions such as “you can vote by phone,” “you can’t vote by telephone” or something that implies donating to a party or candidate.
At the same time, Google has clarified that this applies only to Autocomplete. Users will still be able to check for information about voting or candidates — but don’t immediately see such questions, and using Autocomplete to guide users to make a suitable check could become much harder for a candidate or group.
David Graff, Google’s senior global policy and standards officer, said this is simply an expansion of current company practices, and “not so much a whole new strategy or strategic approach.”
He added, “We are well aware that with this upcoming election … people have strong views and, considering COVID’s context, there are a lot of concerns about voting details and how it might be playing out against the pandemic background.”
Graff also characterized this as a “traditional” strategy, one in which such harmless suggestions are likely to be omitted so that Google does not risk allowing disinformation to creep in around the election.
Pandu Nayak, who heads the search quality team at Google, also said this strategy would leave the vast majority of “completely untouched” Autocomplete suggestions.
“Of course they get an outsized conversation around them, but they are only a very small fraction of Autocompletes,” he said.
The other improvements and developments that Google is highlighting today include the establishment of an Intelligence Desk, a team of analysts monitoring the news and recognizing “potential information threats;” the fact that Google can now recognize breaking news moments in only a few minutes, compared to 40 minutes ago; new technologies designed to prevent Wikipedia from slipping into vandalism.
The US Justice Department is currently investigating Google’s search company and is likely to file an antitrust complaint as early as this month. Google said Thursday the announcements for the search feature are not related to its ongoing antitrust battles.