Google has asked its search quality raters not to assume that users looking up Holocaust denials, or whether women or Islam or black people are evil, are "racist or bad people."
The ad giant pays approximately 10,000 people to use its search services using terms that real-world users have typed in and then report back on how useful the responses were. The results from those "quality raters" are then fed back into the giant Google black box and used to tweak search engine algorithms to deliver better results.
Last week, however, Google declared that links shouldn't be flagged up as offensive or upsetting just because they were probably searched for by bad people. (Flagging results tends to shove them down the search rankings.)
In the latest version of the raters' "general guidelines" [PDF], if someone is specifically looking for offensive material – such as arguments denying the Holocaust, or a list of racial slurs – search raters should assume that person is some kind of beneficent professor looking to expand their awareness of what drives racist or sexist people, rather than, you know, a racist or a sexist.
"Important," the guidelines note: "Do not assume that Upsetting-Offensive tolerant queries 'deserve' offensive results. Do not assume Upsetting-Offensive tolerant queries are issued by racist or 'bad' people. Do not assume users are merely seeking to validate an offensive or upsetting perspective."
This is all part of Google's efforts to maintain its position that it will not "censor" the internet, as it wants to keep its legal position that it has no responsibility for what it links to: it is simply a scourer of the internet that provides the most useful results to users in response to what they ask for. That's a useful position to take while governments threaten websites with fines for hosting obnoxious material.
You can only go so far with Google's logic, however, before the web giant starts to contradict itself – as games developer Brianna Wu pointed out on Monday when Google-owned YouTube put out a statement about content covering LGBT rights: videos on human sexuality are now a "sensitive issue" that are tucked away from viewers, whereas Nazi propaganda, a threat to rape or murder, and verbal attacks on women are not.
So it's OK to censor LGBT vids on YouTube, but it's not OK to automatically punish Holocaust denial websites. What a lovely place Google Land is. ®