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E-mail: Google CEO denies bias in search results

Entrance to a Google office
Photo: Google

Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent a company-wide email Friday, which Axios obtained, denying any effort to politically bias the company's search results and emphasizing that Google needs to remain politically neutral.

Why it matters: The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Google staffers had looked for ways to adjust search results in the wake of President Trump's first travel ban in 2017 — reinforcing conservatives' ire over what they have charged is censorship by Google-owned YouTube and anti-conservative bias in search results.

What they're saying: "It’s important to me that our internal culture continues to reinforce our mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Recent news stories reference an internal email to suggest that we would compromise the integrity of our search results for a political end," Pichai's e-mail read. "This is absolutely false. We do not bias our products to favor any political agenda. The trust our users place in us is our greatest asset and we must always protect it. If any Googler ever undermines that trust, we will hold them accountable."

There's no evidence that Google has ever built political bias into its search algorithms. After the Journal story reporting the 2017 internal discussions about adjusting search results, Google emphasized that none of the ideas discussed were ever implemented.

What's next: The Department of Justice has a meeting scheduled for next week with state attorneys general to weigh potential action against Google and other major online platforms.

The full email:

Hi Googlers,
Recently there have been some news stories about how we approach our work—in particular, how we present our Search results. We feel privileged to be building a product that provides instant access to information for everyone, everywhere—whether you’re a PhD from MIT, or a student on the other side of the world using a computer for the first time. We have billions of people relying on us for accurate information and we feel a deep sense of responsibility to deliver the highest quality results.
It’s important to me that our internal culture continues to reinforce our mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Recent news stories reference an internal email to suggest that we would compromise the integrity of our Search results for a political end. This is absolutely false. We do not bias our products to favor any political agenda. The trust our users place in us is our greatest asset and we must always protect it. If any Googler ever undermines that trust, we will hold them accountable.
As we advance our mission, we must stay grounded in our values—the first of which is to Respect the User. Not just one user ... everyone. We build products for people of every background and belief, and we have strong policies to ensure that our products remain free of bias. As we head into election season in the U.S., it’s worth reaffirming that commitment. While we will stay true to our long-held principles, Google itself is and must continue to be non-partisan.
Our second value is to Respect the Opportunity. Working at Google comes with tremendous responsibility—not only to do the right thing, but to accomplish things that matter. The decisions you make have the potential to affect many people and each decision (big and small) defines what Google is. We have a long-term incentive to make the right decisions to ensure our products work for everyone.
Our third value is to Respect Each Other. We are a global company with more than 80,000 employees across nearly 60 countries who hold a wide range of political views. But we all have something very important in common: we joined Google to build products that improve the lives of as many people as possible. Google isn't a place where we can resolve all of our individual differences. It's a place where we come together in spite of our differences to pursue our mission.
We need to make sure that our culture continues to reinforce that purpose. I look forward to working with all of you to that end.
— Sundar Pichai