Google is looking for ways to alter search functions to counter 2017 travel ban

Donald Trump’s travel ban temporarily barred visitors, immigrants from 7 majority Muslim countries.

Google employees brainstormed ways to alter search functions to counter the Trump administration’s controversial 2017 travel ban, the Wall Street Journal reported on 20 September, citing internal emails.

Google employees discussed how they could tweak the company’s search-related functions to show users how to contribute to pro-immigration organizations and contact lawmakers and government agencies, the WSJ said. The ideas were not implemented.

FILE PHOTO - A Google sign is seen during the WAIC (World Artificial Intelligence Conference) in Shanghai, China, September 17, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

A Google sign is seen during the WAIC (World Artificial Intelligence Conference) in Shanghai. Image: Reuters

President Donald Trump’s travel ban temporarily barred visitors and immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries. It spurred public outcry and was revised several times. Trump said the travel ban was needed to protect the United States against attacks by Islamist militants, and the Supreme Court upheld the measure in June.

The Google employees proposed ways to “leverage” search functions and take steps to counter what they considered to be “islamophobic, algorithmically biased results from search terms ‘Islam’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Iran’, etc.” and “prejudiced, algorithmically biased search results from search terms ‘Mexico’, ‘Hispanic’, ‘Latino’, etc,” the Journal added, quoting from the emails.

A Google spokesperson said the emails represented brainstorming and none of the ideas were implemented. She said the company does not manipulate search results or modify products to promote political views.

“Our processes and policies would not have allowed for any manipulation of search results to promote political ideologies,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

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