Google on Friday denied the allegation that it censors search suggestions specifically to favor Hillary Clinton. Instead, the company said, its algorithm filters out content universally to weed out "offensive or disparaging" suggestions.
"Google Autocomplete does not favor any candidate or cause," a company spokesman said in a statement to the Washington Examiner. "Our Autocomplete algorithm will not show a predicted query that is offensive or disparaging when displayed in conjunction with a person's name."
On Thursday, news website SourceFed posted a video showing how results are manipulated. It explained that when users type "Hillary Clinton Ind" into Google, the top recommendations are "India" and "Indiana." When users type the same thing into competitors Bing or Yahoo!, the top result is "indictment," a word that does not appear anywhere in Google's recommendations. The disparity came in spite of the fact that "indictment" is searched on Google eight times more often than "Hillary Clinton India."
Similarly, a Google search for "Hillary Clinton Cri" yields three recommendations. They are "crime reform," "crisis," and "crime bill 1994." The term on Yahoo! yields "criminal charges," "crimes," "criminal," "criminal record" and "crimes list."
Nonetheless, "Hillary Clinton criminal record" is the more popular term on Google, yielding 1,070,000 results. "Hillary Clinton crime reform" yields 882,000 results.
Different variations produced the same result. Users typing in "Crooked H" on Bing found a suggestion for "Crooked Hillary" as their top result. A search for "Hillary Clinton croo" on Google resulted in a suggestion for "Hillary Clinton cross stitch," while the site stopped trying to guess after a user typed "Hillary Clinton crook."
"The intention is clear. Google is burying searches for terms that could have hurt Hillary Clinton in the primary elections over the past several months by manipulating recommendations on their site," SourceFed's Matt Lieberman said in the video. He said there was "no visible tampering" of similar searches for Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. "Google's bias here is undeniable," he said, calling the practice "deeply unethical and wrong."
However, subsequent searches suggest the site does make an effort to engage in even-handed filtering. Inputting "OJ Simpson cri," for instance, yields a suggestion for "cross examination." A search for "David Petraeus c" yields a suggestion for "CIA," while omitting any reference to the retired general's violation of federal classification laws.
Google insisted its algorithm is geared toward fairness. "Claims to the contrary simply misunderstand how Autocomplete works," the spokesman said.