Feeds

Google's Ethics Committee revealed

There are men behind the machines - shock!

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

While it carries the imprimatur of objectivity, science doesn't operate in an ethical vacuum. As the late Stephen Jay Gould often pointed out, scientists make value judgments all the time, and science is a reflection of wider social values [*]. At Google, the gatekeeper to a trove of digital information, as everywhere else, it's humans not machines who make value decisions. But perhaps more than any other company Google has strived to convince us that machines not men should take responsibility for these decisions.

The Google News page claims, "The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program". But this program didn't program itself, of course, and when pressed for more detail of what constitutes news or a news source, Google's explanations have been tortuous and evasive. In a more recent case, Google issued a response to groups protesting the placement of a vile hate site at the top of a search for "Jew", Google issued an explanation: "The only sites we omit are those we are legally compelled to remove or those maliciously attempting to manipulate our results." However, this doesn't entirely give the full picture: the People's Republic of China has succeeded where the Jewish Anti-Defamation League has failed, and Google censors results for Chinese Internet users. Few take such claims that the machines, or algorithms are solely responsible, at face value. We can argue that Google is right or wrong - but we can't dispute that it's making value judgements.

Google walks

Thanks to a resourceful Israeli journalist, we know a little more about how such decisions are reached. Google has an Ethics Committee, the company's Dr. Eran Gabber revealed yesterday to a group of Israeli students. Google never mentions such details to the press, but Ido Kenan, a reporter for the daily NRG Maariv found himself in a recruitment talk by Dr.Gabber. (A blabbing blogger had spilled the details of Gabber's visit to Tel Aviv University).

"We change PageRank™ when we find that spammers are abusing it, but we don't change it often. There's an internal ethics committee in Google," Maariv reports. "Internally, there are people who are concerned about ethics. In Google, there are a lot of people who find ethics important".

As well they should. However news of unannounced Ethics Committee is at odds with earlier reports that Google amends search results on the fly, as reported last year. Kenan has tried, without much success, to press Google on what is included in its News site, one of the most popular web destinations. The answers he received from Google News mirrored Krishna Bharat's acrobatics in an interview with a trade publication last autumn, which we discussed here.

Passing responsibility onto dumb machines is a ploy that Microsoft founder Bill Gates has tried. When pressed during an Antitrust deposition as to who had written an email from his account, Gates eventually replied, "the machine wrote it." As gatekeepers to information, Microsoft and Google deserve special scrutiny. Wisely, Microsoft has refrained from engaging in trite and sanctimonious Google's "Do No Evil." If it feels unfairly singled out, it should remember that this is a comparison it invited upon itself. ®

Bootnotes: [*] science funding offers a good example; the science we see is a reflection of the research considered worth paying for, and that reflects the values of the sponsors. Picture courtesy of Daniel Brandt (Google Watch, Yahoo! Watch.)

Related stories

Google files Coca Cola jingle with SEC
Google values its own privacy. How does it value yours?
PR rules, OK? Google ducks promised news policy pledge
Google News: press releases are OK – Official
Google launches email - takes the Bill Gates defense

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Apple CEO Tim Cook: TV is TERRIBLE and stuck in the 1970s
The iKing thinks telly is far too fiddly and ugly – basically, iTunes
Huawei ditches new Windows Phone mobe plans, blames poor sales
Giganto mobe firm slams door shut on Microsoft. OH DEAR
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Show us your Five-Eyes SECRETS says Privacy International
Refusal to disclose GCHQ canteen menus and prices triggers Euro Human Rights Court action
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.