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Google turns News ‘bug’ into payola feature

Pay no attention to the robot behind the curtain!

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Google's semantic redefinition of the word "News" could soon prove a lucrative bonus for the secretive search engine company.

Why secretive? The company refuses to publish its News Policy - and it maintains the fiction that the selection and composition of stories on its "News section" was "determined by a computer". That's as true as the assertion that the selection and composition of the story you're reading now was "determined by a computer", too.

As we exclusively confirmed on Friday, Google Inc. has begun treating press releases as news.

"In your first story you highlighted a bug in Google News. We did not clearly mark the RIAA press release for our users. We appreciate you bringing the issue to our attention and apologize for any misconceptions it may have created," Google told us on Monday, via email.

But one man's bug is another man's feature, and Google's promotion of lobby group material and corporate sources is now fairly blatant, as a search for Sun storage [no quotation] reveals.

HP, IBM and EMC and Network Appliance, to pick just four examples, are not extended the same favor.

But these companies need not feel neglected. They'll soon be able to woo Google's favor when the company fills the following vacancy.

It's an important job which involves "developing and maintaining relationships with the news sources included in Google News."

Curiously this falls under the description of "Business Development", not "Editorial".

No one quite knows how Google makes these important decisions. The policy is "internal", the company told us on Monday, and cannot possibly be revealed for "competitive reasons".

However one thing is clear: the inclusion and weighting of stories in Google News beta is not being carried out by robots, but by Google staff.

We invited Google today to develop and maintain its relationship with The Register by explaining these interesting developments, and by repeating our call for the corporation to publish its News Policy.

What will it take for Google to operate with even a modicum of transparency? ®

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