Google appears to have maintained a ‘blacklist’ for dozens of websites on one of its mobile apps, as well as a ‘fringe ranking’ system that scored sites for “quality,” according to documents leaked by a company insider.
Published on Wednesday in a report by conservative transparency group Project Veritas, the documents appear to include hundreds of pages of technical details describing Google’s behind-the-scenes projects, as well as internal communications between employees.
The insider, Zachary Vorhies, told Project Veritas he spent over a year collecting the documents – noting they were available for any full-time employee to see – and said he feared the American “election system was going to be compromised forever” by Google’s control of the flow of information online.
“I saw something dark and nefarious going on with the company and I realized that they were going to not only tamper with the elections, but ... to essentially overthrow the United States,” Vorhies said.
A document entitled “news black list site for google now” singles out nearly 500 websites to be hidden from users of Google Now, an Android application that was phased out in 2016 and replaced by the Google Feed; it is unclear whether the same blacklist is in effect for the app’s newer iteration. The document notes that some of the sites are censored due to “high user block rates,” and others for “peddling hoax stories.”
The list of throttled sites includes rightwing outlets the Daily Caller, the Drudge Report and the Gateway Pundit, as well as scores of smaller conservative pages. Left-of-center media sites also made the list, including Media Matters and other avowedly liberal blogs.
Another document is headed “Fringe ranking/classifier: Defining channel quality,” indicating that Google’s search engine scores websites based on an unknown metric of quality or reliability. In the example shown in the document, the Wall Street Journal is given the highest ranking, while RT America appears halfway down the list, between Fox News and Brietbart.
Paul Joseph Watson of the fringe news site InfoWars, which also appears on Google’s blacklist, observed that he had difficulty finding his own YouTube channel in Google’s search results, despite using the keywords “paul joseph watson youtube channel.”
Another leaked page appears to state that Google employs “human raters” to sift through videos on YouTube, a Google-owned platform, and flag them for “fake news & other fringe” content.
Vorhies called on other employees at Google to come forward with information, saying that “people have been waiting for this Google Snowden moment.”
“My message to those that are on the fence is: I released the documents,” Vorhies said. “I think that there’s a lot of engineers that have a hint that things are wrong, but they don’t understand the colossal scale that it’s at.”
Project Veritas has published a number of exposés on Google’s surreptitious censorship practices in recent months, and has attracted a growing number of tech industry whistleblowers anxious about the company’s influence on the internet as a whole.
The media watchdog said Google has not responded to its request for comment.
Explore Project Veritas’ complete Google document archive here.