Google makes many claims about its search engine. The results are not curated, they are not manipulated, and there is no blacklist of sites, says the company.
However, none of these statements are true, according to an extensive investigation from The Wall Street Journal. It appears “Google keeps blacklists,” the engineers manually make “algorithmic changes,” including making “behind-the-scenes adjustments” to results on the search pages, and Google “boosts some major websites” over other smaller websites. The Journal writes that these actions “have increased sharply since the 2016 election.” Google made 3,200 changes to its algorithms in 2018, an increase from 500 in 2010.
Engineers change all the other parts of Google search results regularly, including “knowledge panels,” “featured snippets,” and news results. Admittedly, these are not part of the basic search result algorithm. But they affect search results all the same.
Google also “keeps blacklists,” reported The Journal, which in the United States include sites that feature child abuse or spam. But the company would never publicly admit to this. In fact, a Google spokesperson told the Journal, “We do today what we have done all along, provide relevant results from the most reliable sources available.” There is a blacklist of terms from the auto-complete function that initially simply left out terms that related to pornography. The current list of terms is not known.
While organic Google searches allow most sites to show up, “some conservative and right-wing websites, including The Gateway Pundit and The United West, were included on a list of hundreds of websites that wouldn’t appear in news or featured products, although they could appear in organic search results.”
In a Google blog, the company denies this, saying, “We do not use human curation to collect or arrange the results on a page.”
Google boosts Amazon and Facebook, claims The Journal, and favors bigger businesses over smaller ones. An unnamed former executive at a Fortune 500 company told The Journal that their former company was told by Google that the company “frequently adjusts how it crawls the web and ranks pages to deal with specific big websites.”
The former executive said, “There’s this idea that the search algorithm is all neutral and goes out and combs the web and comes back and shows what it found, and that’s total BS.” The Journal went on to tell the story of how DealCatcher, a website for consumers, “was caught in an algorithm change” that brought its traffic from 31,000 visitors to 2,400.
When Breitbart released a video of Google executives from 2016 that showed them upset over President Trump’s election, Google buried the result on the 12th page of search results, reported The Journal. Additionally, when the Journal searched for “abortion,” 39 percent of the results came from Planned Parenthood. This was higher than the results from DuckDuckGo and Bing, which were 16 percent and 14 percent respectively.