Google’s motto, at least when it came to its internal code of conduct, was once “Don’t be evil.”
What, then, do you call it when you censor videos that have to do with your own conduct on your own platform?
Because that seems to be exactly what Google is doing with an undercover video released Monday by Project Veritas, a video which has been removed from Google’s YouTube platform for alleged privacy complaints.
The video features a Google whistleblower disclosing what are allegedly internal company documents showing that Google manipulates its algorithms to de-emphasize certain information it views as “unfair” — even if it’s true — in the name of preventing “algorithmic unfairness.”
The big news out of the exposé, however, was undercover footage of an employee saying the company was working to stop “the next Trump situation,” among other things.
Jen Gennai is, at least for the moment, the head of Google’s Responsible Innovation team.
That means she deals with ethical issues regarding the deployment of artificial intelligence. However, her discussion regarding the rationale behind the company’s A.I. principles may not sound terribly ethical to you.
“The reason we launched our A.I. principles is because people were not putting that line in the sand, that they were not saying what’s fair and what’s equitable, so we’re like, well we are a big company, we’re going to say it,” she told the undercover Project Veritas journalist during a dinner in San Francisco.
“There was, the same people who voted for the current president, who do not agree with our definition of fairness.”
Interesting. Care to elaborate?
“Elizabeth Warren is saying we should break up Google,” Gennai is shown saying in the video.
“And like, I love her but she’s very misguided, like that will not make it better — it will make it worse, because all these smaller companies who don’t have the same resources that we do will be charged with preventing the next Trump situation, it’s like a small company cannot do that.”
“We all got screwed over in 2016, again it wasn’t just us, it was — the people got screwed over, the news media got screwed over, like, everybody got screwed over, so we’re rapidly been like, what happened there and how do we prevent it from happening again,” she says.
“We’re also training our algorithms, like, if 2016 happened again, would we have, would the outcome be different?”
Gennai also says that “conservative sources” of news aren’t necessarily “credible news sources.”
“We have gotten accusations … around fairness … that we’re unfair to conservatives because we’re choosing what we find as credible news sources and those sources don’t necessarily overlap with conservative sources,” she said.
The video has since been pulled from YouTube due to privacy claims.
?DEVELOPING: We have received two YouTube privacy complaints for undercover interviews in today’s video (https://t.co/seGC0VcRzz) which exposed a Google exec saying prevent next Trump situation,” another engineer confirming “ML Fairness.” Now is time to download video and SHARE. pic.twitter.com/MKO4dkBy27
— James O’Keefe (@JamesOKeefeIII) June 24, 2019
It’s probably not difficult to guess from what direction the privacy claims came from given that Gennai wrote a piece on Medium blaming the video for death threats levied against her.
However, she doesn’t deny actually saying anything in the video.
“Project Veritas has edited the video to make it seem that I am a powerful executive who was confirming that Google is working to alter the 2020 election,” she wrote.
“On both counts, this is absolute, unadulterated nonsense, of course. In a casual restaurant setting, I was explaining how Google’s Trust and Safety team (a team I used to work on) is working to help prevent the types of online foreign interference that happened in 2016. Google has been very public about the work that our teams have done since 2016 on this, so it’s hardly a revelation.”
“The video then goes on to stitch together a series of debunked conspiracy theories about our search results, and our other products. Google has repeatedly been clear that it works to be a trustworthy source of information, without regard to political viewpoint. In fact, Google has no notion of political ideology in its rankings. And everything I have seen backs this up. Our CEO has said ‘We do not bias our products to favor any political agenda.’ He’s somewhat more powerful and authoritative than me.”
Clearly a reliable source.
And here’s a further take on her remarks: “I was having a casual chat with someone at a restaurant and used some imprecise language. Project Veritas got me. Well done.”
Nobody condones threats and those who are making them should be prosecuted.
But that’s still not an explanation for what she said.
And one can cast serious doubts on the fact that this was all about “help[ing] prevent the types of online foreign interference that happened in 2016,” as she claimed, largely because the context simply isn’t there.
But here’s the most serious thing about this all: Google is stopping people on the world’s foremost video platform from seeing this evidence for themselves, hiding behind a “privacy claim by a third party.”
This is the second time that a Project Veritas claim on abuses within the tech industry has been pulled from YouTube in as many weeks. An earlier video on alleged abuses at Pinterest was also taken down from the platform earlier this month, according to The Daily Wire.
At least that one didn’t have to do with Google. When one of the world’s largest tech companies is censoring information about itself, that’s the very opposite of not being evil.
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