Ahead of the U.S. presidential election, Google says it has taken a number of steps to improve the quality of information that it highlights across its various search and news products.
Google executives outlined these changes at an online press event today, as well as in a blog post. The biggest change seems to be in its policies around Autocomplete, the feature where Google suggests a search based on what you’ve typed so far.
The company says that it will now remove any Autocomplete predictions that seem to endorse or oppose a candidate or a political party, or that make a claim about voting or the electoral process. That would mean eliminating predictions like “you can vote by phone,” “you can’t vote by phone” or anything suggesting that you donate to a party or candidate.
At the same time, Google emphasized that this only applies to Autocomplete. Users will still be able to search for information around voting or candidates — you just won’t see those queries automatically, and it should become much harder for a candidate or party to use Autocomplete to drive users to make a desirable search.
David Graff, Google’s senior director of global policy and standards, said this is merely an extension of the company’s existing policies, and “not so much a completely new policy or philosophical approach.”
He added, “We’re acutely aware that with this upcoming election … people have strong opinions and given the backdrop of COVID, there’s a lot of questions about voting information and how that might play out against the backdrop of the pandemic.”
Graff also described this as a “conservative” approach, one in which some innocuous suggestions will probably be eliminated so that Google doesn’t risk allowing misinformation around the election from sneaking in.
Pandu Nayak, who heads Google’s search quality team, also said this policy will leave the vast majority of Autocomplete suggestions “completely untouched.”
“They get an outsized discussion around them, of course, but they’re actually a very small fraction of Autocompletes,” he said.
The other changes and progress that Google is highlighting today include the formation of an Intelligence Desk, a team of analysts that monitors the news and identifies “potential information threats”; the fact that Google can now identify breaking news moments in just a few minutes, compared to 40 minutes a few years ago; new programs designed to prevent vandalism on Wikipedia from sneaking onto the Knowledge Graph panels that appear alongside search results; and fact-check labels in Google Images.