Could Google tilt a close election?


Author: Craig Timberg
Coverage Type: reporting
Location:
American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, 1000 Thomas Jefferson St NW, Washington, DC, 20007, United States

Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil.” But what would it mean for democracy if it was? That’s the question psychologist Robert Epstein has been asking in a series of experiments testing the impact of a fictitious search engine — he called it “Kadoodle” — that manipulated search rankings, giving an edge to a favored political candidate by pushing up flattering links and pushing down unflattering ones.

Not only could Kadoodle sway the outcome of close elections, he says, it could do so in a way most voters would never notice. Epstein, who had a public spat with Google last year, offers no evidence of actual evil acts by the company. Yet his exploration of Kadoodle — think of it as the equivalent of Evil Spock, complete with goatee — not only illuminates how search engines shape individual choices but asks whether the government should have a role in keeping this power in check.

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