Monday, 04 September 2017 10:53

Google 'pressured' reporter to pull search tactics story


A former writer for Forbes claims Google used its power to force her to kill a story that was critical of the search behemoth's monopolistic practices six years ago.

The context for Kashmir Hill, who now works for Gizmodo, to recall this event, was the recent sacking of a critic of Google from a think-tank that is funded by the company.

Barry Lynn, who was in charge of the Open Markets division at the New America Foundation, was asked to leave by the chief executive of the think-tank, Anne-Marie Slaughter, according to a report in The New York Times.

Hill wrote: "Google denied any role in Lynn's firing, and Slaughter tweeted that the 'facts are largely right, but quotes are taken way out of context and interpretation is wrong'. 

"Despite the conflicting story lines, the underlying premise felt familiar to me: Six years ago, I was pressured to unpublish a critical piece about Google's monopolistic practices after the company got upset about it. In my case, the post stayed unpublished."

Hill said she had been invited to a meeting with Google salespeople about Google Plus, which was then the new social network that the company was trying to market.

She said at the meeting the Google salespeople were encouraging Forbes to add Plus' "+1" social buttons to its articles next to the Facebook Like button and the Reddit share button.

Hill claims the salespeople said it was important to add the +1 buttons as it would be a factor in search results which was, even then, a main source of traffic.

"This sounded like a news story to me. Google's dominance in search and news give it tremendous power over publishers. By tying search results to the use of Plus, Google was using that muscle to force people to promote its social network,:" Hill wrote.

"I asked the Google people if I understood correctly: If a publisher didn't put a +1 button on the page, its search results would suffer? The answer was yes."

After confirming this with Google's PR team, Hill published a story headlined "Stick Google Plus Buttons On Your Pages, Or Your Search Traffic Suffers".

But she was then told by a Google spokesperson that she should take the story down because the meeting had been confidential and subject to a non-disclosure agreement.

After sustained pressure from Google and her bosses at Forbes, Hill finally gave in and took down the story.

What happened next, she said, was more disturbing. "Somehow, very quickly, search results stopped showing the original story at all. As I recall it — and although it has been six years, this episode was seared into my memory — a cached version remained shortly after the post was unpublished, but it was soon scrubbed from Google search results."

However, she was able to source one version that still remains.

Lynn, the man who lost his job at the New America Foundation, has now started a website called Citizens Against Monopoly. It says "Google's attempts to shut down think tanks, journalists, and public interest advocates researching and writing about the dangers of concentrated private power must end."

Hill commented: "It's safe to say they won't be receiving any funding from Google."

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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