A few thoughts on Google, content bias and dodgy PRs


As we featured in The Blagger’s Blog 4th January 2013, a U.S. court recently cleared Google of charges amounting to biasing search results following a two-year investigation. All seemed well, kind of, and with fears over one organisation being responsible for delivering so much information to so many people on the wane we got back to our jobs here at one of Manchester’s best social media and public relations agencies.
Between then and now, though, further events have transpired suggesting all those concerns surrounding the online giant’s potential to do harm may still be valid. Recent headlines haven’t been kind to Google, what with the revelation that Google Play app developers are being sent the email address, area of residence, and name of every customer that downloads their software. Worse still, the customers themselves weren’t told about this, and didn’t consent.
And the situation gets worse, as it was later revealed Google asked the publication responsible for revealing the scandal- News.com.au-  to ‘tone the story down‘. Apparently, the word ‘flaw’ was put into inverted commas regarding the problem with the process, ‘huge’ and ‘massive’ were removed in terms of the size of the issue, with back-end SEO headlines were altered to change search results.
Then we read another story. As discussed on media blog jimromensko.com this Tuesday (written by the U.S. journalist of the same name), a PR pro (presumably Stateside) seems to be offering to write stories for journalists, with ‘expert’ quotes from clients (of course), for free. Needless to say, it didn’t take long to consider the similarities; in both cases business interests are threatening to take precedent over the provision of facts to the public, and realistically neither should be excused.
Of course there will always be some bad apples- from public relations practitioners without principles to lazy or over-streteched writers. And long have press releases wound up as news stories practically un-edited. However, there’s a distinct difference between the influence any marketing entity or editorial title could have with some advertorials dressed as features and the number one service on the planet responsible for aggregating news and information forcing people to alter negative reports about its actions. In this recent instance, Google ensured one article was altered, but if that approach to reputation management were more widespread what would that mean for our trust in the information it provides? And no, the answer probably won’t be found in Yahoo or Bing (we never seem to get the same results).