Russia warns Google over comments about downranking government-linked news sites

Wednesday, 22 November 2017, 07:18:43 PM. Russian communications agency Roskomnadzor has reportedly asked Google to clarify a statement from Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt, who suggested the search engine would downrank results...

Russian communications agency Roskomnadzor has reportedly asked Google to clarify a statement from Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt, who suggested the search engine would downrank results from government-funded media outlets RT and Sputnik.

Agency head Alexander Zharov told the Interfax news service that his office sent a letter requesting more detail about comments Schmidt made to an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum, Reuters writes. “We will receive an answer and understand what to do next,” Zhorov said, according to Interfax. “We hope our opinion will be heard, and we won’t have to resort to more serious” retaliation.

Schmidt was responding to an audience member who mentioned Sputnik’s prominence in Google news alerts and questioned its participation in Google Adsense monetization. “We're well aware of this one, and we're working on detecting this kind of scenario you're describing, and again, de-ranking those kinds of sites,” said Schmidt. “It's basically RT and Sputnik are the two, and there's a whole bunch of coverage about what we're doing there. But we're well aware of it, we're trying to engineer the systems to prevent it. We don’t want to ban the sites; that's not how we operate.”

Sputnik quotes Zharov as saying that he will wait to “see how discriminating this measure will be in its practical embodiment” before taking future action.

Other companies and organizations, including US intelligence agencies, have accused Sputnik and RT of spreading politically motivated misinformation and propaganda. Twitter banned the two broadcasters from its advertising network last month, citing a need to “help protect the integrity of the user experience,” though they remain members of the platform itself.

Google spokesperson Andrea Faville told Reuters that Schmidt’s comments referred to general search ranking improvements that were announced in April, including moves to promote “authoritative” pages and demote “low-quality content.” Google declined to comment on the letter to The Verge, but Faville reiterated that Schmidt was talking about “ongoing efforts to improve search quality,” and that there were “no concrete plans to share” about the process. “We don't change our algorithms to re-rank individual sites,” she said.

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