Google’s Guinea Pigs – Australians Oppose ‘Disturbing’ News Experiment

New research from The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology has shown that four in five Australians say it is “disturbing” that a search engine can remove Australian news from its results.

The Centre for Responsible Technology surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,003 Australians on 14 and 15 January 2021 about reports that Google is conducting an “experiment”, where it removes Australian news content from some users’ search results.

Key results:

  • Four in five (78–80%) Australians agree that:
    • Search engines should be required to disclose details of the experiments that they have conducted.
    • Search engine experiments should only be conducted on those who have explicitly consented to participate in the experiment.
    • It is disturbing that a search engine can remove Australian news from results.
  • Three in four (75%) agree that the algorithms that search engines use should be publicly available so users can assess them.
  • Less than half of Australians (47%) agree that search engines are private companies that should be able to manage their users and algorithms however they like, while two in five (40%) disagree.

“Australians do not want to be used as guinea pigs in Google's lobbying efforts and this experiment should be called off immediately,” said Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

“Our research shows that there is strong opposition in the Australian community to Google’s behaviour. Withholding news, especially during a pandemic, is reckless and irresponsible.”

The Centre for Responsible Technology believes that, at Friday’s Senate hearing into the government’s proposed news media bargaining code, the onus will be on Google to:

  • justify why it is using Australians as guinea pigs to promote their commercial interests,
  • explain how their algorithm calculates value and whether it accepts that journalism is of a higher value than other information,
  • reflect on how their business model is contributing to the collapse in public trust and standards of civil discourse, and
  • disclose any other 'experiments' it is intending to undertake on Australian users.

“Any attempts to use the data gathered from this so called experiment are already tainted by the secrecy surrounding Google’s algorithm. The only thing this experiment has shown is the extraordinary level of control that these global corporations have over the flow of information in our society,” Mr Lewis said.

Full polling brief an be downloaded here.