Google has plenty of high-profile friends in the US government, particularly within the military and surveillance communities. But one US Congressman isn’t backing down over what he believes to be a gross injustice committed by the search giant. Is he mad about the company’s involvement with secret wage theft agreements? Or its close ties to the NSA? Or its lucrative deals with military subcontractors, some of which are of questionable repute?
No, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is outraged because he thinks Google may be downgrading search hits for some rightwing propaganda movie from disgraced filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza.
The California Republican wants to investigate Google after D’Souza’s film “America” showed some irregularities in search results. According to D’Souza’s lawyers, the search engine has been confusing “America” for the director’s previous film, “2016: Obama’s America,” thus “hampering the ability of consumers to figure out where the movie is playing.” That’s an innocent enough mistake to make, but Rohrabacher wants to make a federal case out of the fact that in the three weeks since the film debuted, Google has not taken steps to fix the problem — As if the mega-corporation has nothing better to do than alter its search algorithm to help out a guy dumb enough to give his second movie almost the same name as his first.
Rohrabacher also worries that Google failed to fix the problem expediently because it’s part of some left-wing hippie conspiracy. (Never mind the company’s ties to climate change deniers and anti-labor practices.)
“If there was an intent to confuse the public about this movie because of its ideological content, then we’re going to find out about it,” Rohrabacher tells the Hollywood Reporter.
Leaving aside for a moment the absurdity of using Congressional resources to help rectify what really comes down to bad SEO on the part of D’Souza, it’s not as if Google hasn’t sparked legitimate suspicions over its search practices before. As Pando’s James Robinson wrote in late May, Google removed the home automation startup Vivint from search results after buying one of its competitors Nest. Google’s now-departed head of webspam called Robinson’s reporting “silly,” saying Vivint had included external links on its site that violated the search engine’s policies. Nevertheless, the links were merely coded improperly, and furthermore Google provided a lack of transparency in helping Vivint determine which links were no good. One month later, Robinson reported that eBay’s search ranking mysteriously took a hit as Google accelerated its own ecommerce offerings.
But in the case of D’Souza, the confusion likely stems from the fact that the director already released a movie with a similar name. And because the original film sought to breed fear in the hearts of conservatives just months before President Obama was up for reelection, it was also quite popular, and thus relevant as far as Google’s search robots are concerned.
Should Google have taken steps to correct the issue sooner? If it wants to provide the most accurate search results to users, the answer’s yes. But it doesn’t owe anything to D’Souza or Rohrabacher.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]