San Francisco – Google, under fire for refusing to exclude an anti-Semitic website from Internet search results, on Tuesday said it cannot deny users access because that would betray a vow to deliver unbiased information – no matter how it detests the site’s message.
The offending website, Jewwatch.com, shows up as the first search result when users type “Jew” into Google’s popular Internet search engine.
The site, which says its mission is to keep “close watch on Jewish communities and organisations worldwide,” includes links to numerous hate groups and other anti-Semitic information.
“I certainly am very offended by the site, but the objectivity of our rankings is one of our very important principles,” Sergey Brin, who started Google with fellow Stanford University graduate student Larry Page in the late 1990s, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“We don’t let our personal views – religious, political, ethical or otherwise – affect our results,” said Brin, who added that he is Jewish.
Several weeks ago, a New York-based real estate investor started an online petition urging Google to remove the site.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition – at www.removejewwatch.com – had collected more than 50 000 signatures.
Brin, who has received numerous emails from friends who oppose the site, said the decision to continue including it in search results is about maintaining editorial integrity at Google.com, where results are determined by complex computer algorithms.
“We do not want to have people involved in showing the results for a query,” Brin said.
He added that most people searching for information about Jewish people or organisations use the term “Jewish” in their queries as opposed to “Jew,” which is often used in an anti-Semitic context. A Google search using “Jewish” as a search term did not turn up hate sites in the top results.
Prior to the current flap, the key word “Jew” showed up in about one of every 10 million queries, Brin said.
“There are 100 times as many now,” he said, mostly due to curiosity related to the controversy.
The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors hate groups and anti-Semitic activity, has come down on the side of Google.
“The ranking of Jewwatch and other hate sites is in no way due to a conscious choice by Google, but solely is a result of this automated system of ranking,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a March 30 letter on its website.
Meanwhile, US Senator Charles Schumer of New York has a different view and has sent Google a letter asking that it change its algorithm to make the site less prominent in its search results, a spokesperson for Schumer said.
In the past, Mountain View, California-based Google has removed sites dealing with illegal activity, such as paedophilia, or sites that “maliciously” attempt to manipulate search results.