If you watched last week’s video, you saw how we’d found a curious discrepancy in Google’s auto complete results for Hillary Clinton. When you searched for “Hillary Clinton cri” in the U.S. relatively benign search phrases popped up, but on Google sites in the rest of the world we got results like Hillary Clinton criminal prosecution and Hillary Clinton crime video. Based on these results, it looked like Google was manipulating the auto-complete results in the U.S.
Google responded by emailing the Washington Post, claiming that the autocorrect feature cut out any responses that were “offensive or disparaging” when they showed their results. The problem with their response is that it appears to be a flat-out lie.
First of all, if the phrase is so offensive or disparaging, it wouldn’t show up in searches in every English-speaking country except the U.S. It would have been cut out worldwide if it was so insulting toward Hillary Clinton. In truth, the only place where it doesn’t show is in google.com’s search.
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The other part of the untruth has to do with further statements made by Google. They state that auto-complete results are always based on search phrase popularity, based on locality. So logically, the most commonly searched-for phrase should show up at the top of the list. When you search google.com.au, it does just that. But when you use Google’s own tool, Google Trends, you can clearly see the missing phrases showing higher search volume than the ones that do appear when you search.
The bottom line? I don’t know exactly what’s going on with these results, but they’re fascinating to watch. I think it’s pretty far-fetched to believe that Google might be manipulating results for some unstated objective, if only because it’s being done in a really obvious manner. I’m not even sure how you could hack the system to get those results, but it’s an interesting subject to watch.
For more information, visit the StewArt Media website.
Jim Stewart is a leading expert in search engine optimisation. His business StewArt Media has worked with clients including Mars, M2 and the City of Melbourne.