Google employee discussions on altering search function after travel ban raise bias concerns

Google on Friday downplayed a report that some of its employees discussed altering the company’s search engine to counter the Trump administration’s travel ban from seven majority Muslim countries, even as the tech giant weathers presidential allegations of bias against conservative voices.

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The employees discussed the possibility of tweaking algorithms to promote search results prompting users to donate to pro-immigration causes while downgrading results deemed “islamophobia” or prejudiced, the Wall Street Journal reported. Google said the suggested changes would never have been implemented and were proposed by junior employees, though internal emails showed at least three employees were manager-level or higher, FOX Business correspondent Hillary Vaughn reported.

"These emails were just a brainstorm of ideas, none of which were ever implemented,” the company said in a statement. “Google has never manipulated its search results or modified any of its products to promote a particular political ideology -- not in the current campaign season, not during the 2016 election, and not in the aftermath of President Trump’s executive order on immigration. Our processes and policies would not have allowed for any manipulation of search results to promote political ideologies.”

The report went public days after new footage showed Google executives disparaging Donald Trump at an all-hands meeting hours after he was elected president, raising new questions about employee bias against conservatives. Trump has repeatedly accused Google and other platforms of suppressing or “shadow-banning” conservative sources while promoting progressive voices.

Executives from leading social media and tech companies testified before Congress earlier this month to address allegations of bias, as well as lingering concerns about fake news and foreign meddling on the platforms. While Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were both present, congressional leaders criticized Google after the company said its chief legal officer, not Alphabet CEO Larry Page or Google brand CEO Sundar Pichai, would attend the hearings. A chair was intentionally left empty during the hearings, in a sign of congressional disapproval for the snub.

In the days ahead of the hearing, Trump publicly ripped Google on several occasions, asserting at one point that the platform had failed to promote his first State of the Union addresses on its homepage, as it had done for President Barack Obama. Google disputed the allegations and provided evidence that it had promoted the addresses.

Google has also been accused of demonstrating bias within the employee ranks. Former Google engineer James Damore alleges he was fired for penning an internal memo criticizing the company’s diversity policies for being intolerant of opposing political beliefs.

“There’s a certain left-wing dogma that they have,” Damore told FOX Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo of Mornings with Maria last year. “They feel threatened if anyone shows a dissenting opinion. And in my case, they just fire them.”

Google has repeatedly denied that it engages in political bias of any kind.