McNally: What Would Google Do?

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - FEBRUARY 17: Mercedes Kent joins other people after a school shooting that killed 17 to protest against guns on the steps of the Broward County Federal courthouse on February 17, 2018 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Earlier this week former student Nikolas Cruz opened fire with a …
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“What would Google do?” is not yet a colloquially popular phrase, but perhaps in time it will come to be.

The search-engine behemoth is not just the portal through which the vast majority of online information flows, it is also the arbiter of what is good, what is morally correct, and ultimately, of course, what is accessible; consult your spouse, your partner, your father, your mother, your best friend, and even your God if you must, but in the end, Google is the all-wise and powerful entity that will either bless or deny your online shopping fancy.

If you think I’m exaggerating, then you probably didn’t engage with Google Shopping in the weeks after a deranged gunman slaughtered 17 innocents at a high school in Florida.  If you had, then Google would have come between you and your red wine indulgence (no dice on the Burgundy), your desire for home improvement or car maintenance (popular high-powered degreaser, Gunk®, had been rendered nonexistent, as had glue guns and gunite), and even your taste in music (the entire “Guns ‘n Roses” catalogue – all 16 albums, spanning 33 years – had vanished).

And, what if you wanted to repaint your garage floor gun-metal gray, secure tee times at Eagle’s Nest Golf Course, located within Alabama’s beautiful Lake Guntersville State Park, or buy your eight-year-old nephew, Mikey, a powerful squirt gun with which to happily harass his older twin sisters?  Well, Google would have denied you those pleasures too.

That’s a lot of power.  Would you have come up against it if you’d simply asked, first, “what would Google do?” before you embarked upon what you imagined was your own personal online shopping odyssey?  Perhaps not.

By now you’ve probably guessed what all the seemingly disparate items above have in common, but if not, I’ll tell you: not one of them contains gun powder; none are intrinsically life-threating, save the alcohol (note to self: don’t drink paint); provided you’re an adult, all are legal for purchase; and, all of them are described with words that utilize the Latin alphabet, contain the letters “g”, “u”, and “n”, and feature those specific letters in that exact order.

You are probably aware that Google instituted a policy in 2012, specifically banning advertisements featuring firearms and ammunition, and prohibiting all commerce of same.  The search giant announced the move, and it garnered ample press attention.  Given the deserved media frenzy surrounding this latest school massacre, you might have anticipated (“what would Google do?”) that Google would rush to tweak its search algorithms to shield you even from the danger of purchasing an item with the word “gun” contained within…or, simply to signal its overwhelming virtue on one of the most emotional topics of the day.  But, how would you know?

Google refuses to discuss the methods or frequency with which it engineers its algorithms, even though it’s understood it makes changes all year long, perhaps even thousands of times.  Despite demanding transparency and openness from all, Google crouches behind its firewall, operating always in dark and powerful secrecy. There is no oversight. There is no audit. There is no announcement — or even an expectation of one.

Much has been written about Google’s near monopoly of online content, it’s aggressively progressive political perspective, and its willingness to manipulate searches and rankings in hopes of achieving outcomes (Here, here, and here, among other places).  But you don’t have to be an NRA life-member, or in the midst of stockpiling weapons in your Idaho bunker, or even a tepid 2nd Amendment proponent, to be alarmed by this authoritarian – and secret – control of information.

Political affiliation aside, this is an issue that impacts all of us; do we or do we not value the free flow of information, and the unfettered access to it?

Who is to say that guns aren’t Google’s proverbial canary in the coalmine, just the most recently visible topic Google would like to suppress?  Type “AR-15” into google shopping and you are presented with a blank page, and the announcement that “your search did not match any shopping results.” You are presented with the exact same notice if you search for a miniaturized AR-15 key chain, a history of Colt’s AR-15, or a t-shirt that depicts its image.

Today, guns.  Tomorrow, sugary foods, American football, walls and Civil War memorials?

Christie-Lee McNally is the Director of Free Our Internet. Free Our Internet (www.freeourinternet.org) is a non-profit citizen group whose mission is to educate the public about how leftist super-elites and their powerful corporate allies in Silicon Valley have methodically used their wealth and political influence to erode the public’s internet freedoms and destroy alternative media. Our goal is to empower the public to fight back against the tech-left’s well-funded war to control our means of communication, information, organizing, and mobilizing: the internet. Free Our Internet and its supporters stand for free speech and expression online, protecting the diversity of ideas, and opposing government actions that undermine Internet openness and transparency.

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