Google’s ‘experiment’ in Australia to remove major news sites from search results is hiding important information from hundreds of thousands of Australians.
In some cases, filtering out mainstream news publications from search results also leads to the promotion of lower-quality publications, including a news website known to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories.
The search giant has previously admitted that it is conducting “a few experiments which will each reach around 1% of Google Search users in Australia to measure the impacts of newspaper companies and Google Search on each other”, but has previously refused to answer detailed questions about the experience.
For some users, major news sites will not appear in search results, and users are not notified that their search results are restricted. People can still see news in Google News and can find news through normal methods, such as visiting news websites directly or using alternative search engines.
The experiment does not remove results that link to official information, such as those found on government websites.
A Google spokesperson confirmed that a “small percentage of users” would not see certain news stories in Google Search, but disputed that this would prevent Australians from reaching news sources.
“It is patently incorrect to claim that this prevented Australians from reaching sources of information. First, these are tiny experiences, which only affect a very small percentage of users, so the vast majority of users are completely unaffected,” he said.
“Second, even users affected by the experiments can continue to access news websites, for example they can go directly to publisher websites, use publisher apps, via Google News, follow links on social networks or shared by friends and family, or get news from TV, radio, print newspapers and magazines.
Guardian Australia may have had browser sessions affected by the removal of news sites and may reveal the impact of blocking news sites compared to a normal search session.
A side-by-side comparison of two search sessions shows that in this case, “experience” suppresses results from major Nine Entertainment websites such as the Sydney Morning Herald, Age and AFR; News Corp Australia websites, including major news sites such as the Herald Sun, but also regional publications such as the Gympie Times; the Guardian website; and Seven West Media websites such as 7news and West Australian.
Even searches like “The Age” or “The Herald Sun” won’t return major news websites in the search results.
Other news sites such as the ABC, BBC and Canberra Times were unaffected. The ABC was reportedly filtered out of search results for a user last week, so it’s possible the difference between news sites is due to different “experiences”.
This filter prevents users from fully seeing certain stories in search results if they are not widely covered. For example, Guardian Australia’s exclusive story about the alleged abuse of an Aboriginal woman in an ACT prison did not show up at all in the search results affected by the filter.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s story about increased donations from property developers was similarly affected, and the original story did not show up at all in searches affected by Google’s restrictions, only mentioning the story. on social media and other websites.
For other news stories, like this article about Asic, the corporate regulator targeted by hackers, the filter causes the top news results to come from sources outside Australia.
In some cases, the experiment resulted in sources of dubious quality being promoted on blocked news websites. A search for “Scott Morrison” conducted last Thursday by a colleague who was experiencing the restriction on news sites returned The Epoch Times as one of the top three results. The Epoch Times reportedly spread pro-Trump conspiracy theories, QAnon content and anti-vaccine misinformation.
Google said the experience will reach about 1% of users. However, given Google’s large market share in Australia (approximately 95%), and the high proportion of Australians who use the Internet for informational purposes (at least 86% for those over 18), this experience could affect at least 160,000 people. based on a calculation on the back of the envelope.