By manipulating its search results, Google could decide the next election.
The world’s most-used search engine is so powerful and national elections are so tight, that even a tiny tweak in Google’s (GOOGL, Tech30) secret algorithm could swing the 2016 presidential election, according to Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology.
In an op-ed on Politico.com, Epstein said that he and a team of researchers studied behavior in undecided voters who had been exposed to rigged search results. By displaying results that shone a more favorable light on a particular candidate the researchers could shift opinion towards that favored candidate.
The study boosted a candidate’s favorability rating by between 37% and 63% after just one 15-minute search session. The five double-blind, randomized studies included 4,500 undecided voters in the United States and India.
A Google spokeswoman said that the company’s algorithm is designed to provide “relevant answers,” and rigging them to favor one view over another “would undermine the people’s trust in our results and company.”
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