By Lucas Laursen
September 21, 2018

Algorithmic bias or personal bias: take your pick.

Google employees sent each other emails discussing ways to counter “islamaphobic” and “prejudiced, algorithmically biased search results” for terms such as “Islam” and “Hispanic” after the the Trump administration announced a travel ban in 2017, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The travel ban in its original form placed severe restrictions on visitors from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen to the United States. While promoted as a security measure, it contained religious overtones.

The emails noted the sensitivity of dealing with a political topic, but went on to explore ideas for directing people who searched for those terms to pages for contributing to pro-immigration causes. A marketing employee wrote: “Overall idea: Leverage search to highlight important organizations to donate to, current news, etc. to keep people abreast of how they can help as well as the resources available for immigrations [sic] or people traveling,”

Another employee suggested using an experimental feature called Highlights that would allow celebrities to insert text into search results.

“These emails were just a brainstorm of ideas, none of which were ever implemented,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement to the WSJ. “Our processes and policies would not have allowed for any manipulation of search results to promote political ideologies.”

Google has, however, been investigated by the Federal Trade Commission and been fined in the EU for manipulating search results of its own products.

It also attracts accusations of bias on a regular basis. A leaked video of Google executive Sergey Brin appeared revealed him lamenting to other Google employees the results of the last U.S. presidential election. In August, President Trump took to Twitter to suggest that Google search results for his name only showed the “viewing/reporting of Fake New[s] Media.”

“In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD,” he added.

Next week Attorney General Jeff Sessions is meeting with state attorneys general to discuss what they call anticonservative bias in the tech world.

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