White House investigating Google after Trump accuses it of bias

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday Google’s search engine was hiding “fair media” coverage of him and said he would address the situation, taking a swipe at the internet giant without providing evidence or giving details of action he might take.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: The logo of Google is pictured during the Viva Tech start-up and technology summit in Paris, France, May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

The company, part of Alphabet Inc, denied any political bias in its search engine.

Trump’s economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, later told reporters that the White House was “taking a look” at Google, saying they would do “some investigation and some analysis,” without providing further details.

Trump’s criticism and threat of action to somehow restrict Google was his latest attack on a major tech company, following a series of tweets about Amazon.com, which he has accused of hurting small businesses and benefitting from a favorable deal with the U.S. Postal Service.

Last week, without mentioning specific companies, he accused social media companies of silencing “millions of people” in an act of censorship, without offering evidence to support the claim.

In several tweets on Tuesday, the president said Google search results for “Trump News” showed only the reporting of what he terms fake news media, saying this was rigged against him and others.

Blaming Google for what he said was dangerous action that promoted mainstream media outlets such as CNN and suppressed conservative political voices, Trump added, “This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!” He did not offer any details.

Google said in a statement that its search engine “is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology … We continually work to improve Google Search and we never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment.”

U.S. member of Congress Ted Lieu, a Democrat, said in a tweet directed at Trump: “If government tried to dictate the free speech algorithms of private companies, courts would strike it down in a nanosecond.”

Shares of Alphabet fell 0.3 percent to $1,252.98.

TRUMP’S CRITICISM OF MEDIA

While the exact science behind Google searches on the internet is kept secret, its basic principles are widely known. Search results on Google are generated by a variety of factors measured by the company’s algorithms.

They include determining a site’s relevance by counting the number of links to the page. Other factors such as personal browsing history and how certain keywords appear on the page also affect how pages are ranked. Popular news sites such as CNN.com and NYTimes.com, which many readers link to, can appear higher in searches based on such factors.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a question during an interview with Reuters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

Trump has long criticized news media coverage of him, frequently using the term fake news to describe critical reports. Earlier this month, he accused social media companies, which include Twitter Inc and Facebook Inc, of censorship.

Trump’s accusation of bias on the part of Google comes as social media companies have suspended accounts, banned certain users and removed content as they face pressure from the U.S. Congress to police foreign propaganda and fake accounts aimed at disrupting American politics, including operations tied to Iran and Russia.

Companies such as Facebook and Twitter have also been pressed to remove conspiracy driven content and hate speech.

Tech companies have said they do not remove content for political reasons.

Some Republican U.S. lawmakers have also raised concerns about social media companies removing content from some conservatives, and have called Twitter’s chief executive to testify before a House of Representatives panel on Sept. 5.

Earlier this month, Alphabet’s YouTube joined Apple Inc and Facebook in removing some content from Infowars, a website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Jones was also temporarily suspended on Twitter.

Trump and the White House did not provide any detail on how they would probe Google, but the new Republican chair of the Federal Trade Commission, Joseph Simons, said in June that the agency would keep a close eye on big tech companies that dominate the internet.

Reporting by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Ken Li in New York and Chris Sanders in Washington; Editing by Frances Kerry

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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