Google’s autocomplete function in the search bar caused a little bit of stir recently, when people in the UK noticed something strange happened when one typed in the name of political parties.
If you typed in the phrases ‘Labour are’, ‘Lib Dems are’ or ‘SNP are’, you were greeted with some rather damning results. ‘Labour are’ yielded the results ‘Labour are finished’, ‘Labour are a joke’ and ‘Labour are scum’.
Typing in the abbreviations for the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party (Lib Dems and SNP respectively) brought out similarly slanderous results such as ‘Lib Dems are finished’ and ‘SNP are nazis’.
However, if one typed in the phrase ‘Conservatives are’ or ‘Tories are’ Google’s auto-complete showed absolutely nothing.
This prompted many people to take to social media accusing Google of censoring its search results to favour Britain’s ruling party. The accusations centred around a recent deal that allowed the search engine giant to pay only a relatively paltry £130m in back taxes. Many wondered if the internet was truly up for sale.
Google has denied there is any link between its tax deal with the British government and the autocomplete results and dismissed the accusations as ‘conspiracy theories’.
“[Google] can categorically state that tax is not remotely connected to this, nor are their ‘conspiracy theories’ founded in any way,” Google told The Guardian. “Autocomplete predictions are produced based on a number of factors including the popularity of search terms.”
So what’s going on here? Well, according to Google the search engine does “remove offensive or inappropriate content from autocomplete predictions.”
Could this mean that what people are typing about the Conservatives is so offensive it’s been blocked?
Just for fun, we decided to toss the name of South Africa’s ruling party into Google and, wouldn’t you know, the results aren’t universally glowing.
Typing ‘ANC are’ into Google yields ‘ANC are terrorists’, ‘ANC are useless’ and ‘ANC are corrupt’. Oh, it also produces ‘ANC area code’ and ‘ANC arena’. Offensive, yes, but not so offensive as to be blocked.
Incidentally, none of this has changed. Head over to Google and try it for yourself.