Saturday, 29 April 2017 01:24

EDITORIAL: Google finally searching for quality over quantity


Dr. Frankenstein wants to help the peasants capture the monster he created. That's essentially what Google's doing by asking the millions of us who use its service for our feedback on the quality of the information we receive from the search-engine behemoth.

It seems that Google and other huge Internet players have finally come around to the realization that more doesn't necessarily mean better.

That hasn't been a main concern previously for a company that's now valued at close to $610 billion - about the same as ExxonMobil and AT&T combined.

At least - or at last - Google hasn't let good fortune cloud its corporate responsibility. That's why suddenly it cares about our sensibilities, and not just the algorithms it uses to filter the content we see. Unscrupulous entities sometimes get the better of those embedded computer protocols, and it's up to us humans to intervene on the side of decency.

That's why, according to published reports, Google will now offer options to report inaccurate or obscene information in those summary boxes that appear at the top of your search. You'll also be able to report offensive autocomplete phrases that appear when you begin typing a question.

The company insists it's a quality-control issue, although Google believes it involves less than 1 percent of the results it generates every day. But when you handle more 3 billion searches daily, that can still add up to several million bogus results.

But it's also public knowledge that many advertisers have complained to Goggle about the placement of their ads alongside extremist content. The company vowed to pre-empt that loss of revenue by giving advertisers more say over where their material is placed, thus avoiding the appearance of supporting an alienating or abhorrent point of view. In doing so, Google can appease both pillars of their successful business model.

We say, better late than never, but we wonder if Google's sudden search for facts and objectivity would have happened without the complaints about the plethora of misinformation pawned off as news during the Clinton-Trump presidential campaign, which has continued during the Trump presidency.

And we wonder, given the assumption that the majority of Americans are low-information consumers - who base their opinions primarily on these same Internet sources - if they're capable of separating fact from somebody's political or social fiction.

That's the monster the informational age has released. With no boundaries, regurgitations of opinions -- or worse supposed statements of fact -- not supported or challenged by the discipline of objective research seek to carry the same weight as work produced by professional news gatherers.

This self-policing policy can only go so far if Google and other major search engines rely on the same sources of information. A general inquiry can generate millions of responses in a matter of seconds. We can only hope that Google lets the cream of respected news outlets - no matter their political point of view - rise to the top. That will at least give those low-information souls a fighting chance.

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