Remember that Disney patent for a search engine which would return official marketing material ahead of useful results from independent sources?
Apparently Google thought that was a great idea, because they’re now returning official press releases as a valid news source under the news tab in Google.
For example, if you Google Gemalto and then switch to the news tab, your first link won’t lead to a news story about this SIM card maker getting hacked by the US govt but to an unrelated press release. And if you search for “Gemalto Hack”, you won’t get a news story but the press release which Gemalto released in response to the revelation.
Here’s what I see in Google right now:
If you can’t see the screen shot, the press release is outranking stories from Techcrunch, the WSJ, Wired, and ZDNet.
I know that everyone likes to snark about blogs and news sites simply rewriting a press release (I’ve done it more than I like) but come on. There’s a huge difference between a news story and a press release. With the former you at least have a chance that someone will point out the flaws in the official tale, but in the press release all you get is the official line of cow manure.
Reuters was the first to notice the change, and they report that a Google spokesperson confirmed that the change had been made in September.
And to be clear, Reuters reported that the change was made to the “in the news” section of the main search results page. I can’t actually see that at the moment (I’m in Canada), but what I can see is just as bad.
Reuters also reported that Apple’s press release for the Apple Watch similarly topped the “in the news” section earlier this week.
The Google spokesperson justified the change with the statement that “The goal of search is to get users the right answer at any one time as quickly as possible — that may mean returning an article from an established publisher or from a smaller niche publisher or indeed it might be a press release”.
I disagree. The official statement is never the right answer. That smacks of being a corporate mouthpiece, and not an independent actor.
Folks, I would say that what Google is doing here is even worse than that recent paper Google researchers wrote on judging the truthfulness of a website. At least in that Situation Google would be checking websites against an independent collection of facts, but with the press release Google is simply taking a company’s word for what counted as news.
That is simply wrong.
image by Gastev