Google LLC said today that it’s going to do something it has so far shied away from doing: Update its search algorithm.
The change was first reported by the New York Times, which said that one of the reasons for the update was its own articles on people who have been slandered online and extorted. People can be vilified on a website, and even though they might be innocent of the transgression, when you Google them the accusation can often rank high in the search results.
Some websites have been known to make money by accusing someone of being a scammer, a sexual predator, or some other scofflaw. After that, the victim is offered a way out, which involves sending the website some cash.
Google has now created a “known victims” list, which will consist of people that have been targets of this kind of extortion. Once their names are on the list, the offending search results will not rank high anymore.
“I doubt it will be a perfect solution, certainly not right off the bat,” David Graff, Google’s vice president for global policy and standards and trust and safety, told the Times. “But I think it really should have a significant and positive impact. We can’t police the web, but we can be responsible citizens.”
In the past, Google has been stubborn about meddling with search results in an effort to remain neutral. If a website posted material and that website was linked to by other websites with a good reputation, the content would climb up the rankings. That offers little protection to people whose names have been dragged through the mud.
“The only sites we omit are those we are legally compelled to remove or those maliciously attempting to manipulate our results,” Google said back in 2004. The company later started de-ranking websites that were proffering pirated material or others that published people’s sensitive information, but up until now, it has taken a hands-off approach when it comes to slander.
In 2014, the European Union told Google that residents of the EU should have the right to ask Google to take content down if what was said about them was not true, known as the “right to be forgotten.” Google fought and lost that battle and had to remove millions of links. It seems now that victims of extortion won’t dread whenever someone searches their name.
Photo: Solen Feyissa/Unsplash
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