Despite conservative grumblings of liberal bias, Internet behemoth Google has for years claimed its search engine exclusively uses algorithms to provide accurate and impartial results for those interested in finding out information concerning a particular subject.
Google's CEO Eric Schmidt affirmed this contention while speaking to a group of conservative bloggers during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul this past September.
According to the British Register, such a digitally impartial procedure, assuming it indeed exists today, may at some time in the future be altered:
[W]hen five years ago I described how a small, self-selected number of people could rig Google's search results, the reaction from the people doing the rigging was violently antagonistic. Who lifted that rock? they cried.
But what was once Googlewashing by a select few now has Google's active participation.
This week [Google’s Vice President of Search Product and User Experience] Marissa Meyer explained that editorial judgments will play a key role in Google searches. It was reported by Tech Crunch proprietor Michael Arrington - who Nick Carr called the "Madam of the Web 2.0 Brothel" - but its significance wasn't noted. The irony flew safely over his head at 30,000 feet. Arrington observed:
Mayer also talked about Google’s use of user data created by actions on Wiki search to improve search results on Google in general. For now that data is not being used to change overall search results, she said. But in the future it’s likely Google will use the data to at least make obvious changes. An example is if “thousands of people” were to knock a search result off a search page, they’d be likely to make a change.
Now what, you may be thinking, is an "obvious change"? Is it one that is frivolous? (Thereby introducing a Google Frivolitimeter™ [Beta]). Or is it one that goes against the grain of the consensus? If so, then who decides what the consensus must be? Make no mistake, Google is moving into new territory: not only making arbitrary, editorial choices - really no different to Fox News, say, or any other media organization. It's now in the business of validating and manufacturing consent: not only reporting what people say, but how you should think.
Who's hand is upon the wheel, here?
Of course, this raises the question: If Google has no problem making arbitrary, editorial choices in the future, why should we believe they're not doing that now?
Those interested in watching Arrington's interview with Meyer should go here.