Thursday, November 3, 2005

Google and Spin 2

Two years ago, Prince Charles was subject to some unlikely allegations of sexual misconduct. Instead of turning a blind eye, he issued strenuous denials to all news media. At the time, some people thought this unwise - it merely drew attention to the allegations.

But the effect of the denials was to swamp the Internet. It became almost impossible to find the original allegations, because a Google search merely came up with hundreds and hundreds of denials, repeated by every news channel in the world. Even if you eventually reached the allegations, you would almost certainly have seen (and been conditioned by) repeated denials, together with many statements undermining the credibility of those making the allegations. In my post Google and Spin (Nov 2003), I suggested that this was in fact a clever bit of news management by the Prince's staff.

I also noted that Google search wasn't always even-handed, but could be strongly biased towards those advocating a particular technology with a marketing budget to support their efforts, making it hard to find sites that were sceptical or critical. The example I cited then was biometrics. Laurie Sullivan of TechWeb News suggests that a similar thing is now happening with RFID. RFID Firm Turns To Google For Pro-RFID Campaign (November 1st, 2005)

It seems that the pro-RFID campaign has a large budget explicitly for information warfare, with Google as the battlefield, and is prepared to spend heavily on sponsored links, which presumably bias the search rankings in its favour. The pro-RFID campaign has made no secret of its hostility towards an anti-RFID book called SpyChips, and would doubtless be happy if this book received very poor search rankings. Nobody has suggested that Google would ever take money for suppressing an inconvenient website; the search algorithms are not disclosed, so we must trust that Google would never abuse their position of power. But the effect can probably be achieved anyway without any moral hazard for Google - simply as an emergent effect of positive sponsorship and marketing spend.

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