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This is concerning.
A series of videos released by Project Veritas show a Google executive candidly discussing actions the company has and plans to take in order to manipulate search results, selectively filter access to information, and even "preventing the next Trump situation" in 2020 and beyond.
Prominently featured in the videos is Jen Gennai, Google's Head of Responsible Innovation.
"We all got screwed over in 2016," Gennai said in one of the clips, "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. We're also training our algorithms, like, if 2016 happened again, would we have, would the outcome be different?"
What are the most concerning revelations?
Influencing elections? Gennai said she opposes Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) plan to break up big tech companies like Google, "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."
Manipulating real-world facts with AI? A Google insider told Project Veritas about a Google feature called "Machine Learning Fairness" which can manipulate search results to fit with what Google determines meets a standard of "fairness," even if it doesn't accurately represent factual reality.
For example, a leaked Google document explained how a search for CEOs might be manipulated to show a more balanced gender representation than what actually exists:
"For example, imagine that a Google image query for "CEOs" shows predominantly men. Even if it were a factually accurate representation of the world, it would be algorithmic unfairness because it would reinforce a stereotype about the role of women in leadership positions. However, factual accuracy may affect product policy's position on whether or how it should be addressed.
"In some cases, it may be appropriate to take no action if the system accurately affects current reality, while in other cases it may be desirable to consider how we might help society reach a more fair and equitable state, via either product intervention or broader corporate social responsibility efforts."
Conservative media bias? Gennai also discussed the reasons why conservative media outlets might not get promoted or distributed as much as other sources on Google.
"We have gotten accusations around of around fairness is 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," Gennai said.
The Google exec responds to Veritas' report
Gennai responded on Medium:
"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. 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."
In her post on Medium, Gennai also denied that Google has any "notion of political ideology in its rankings," and said that she was taken advantage of by Veritas reporters who "baited" her.
"I was having a casual chat with someone at a restaurant and used some imprecise language," Gennai wrote. "Project Veritas got me. Well done."
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