Russia Threatens To Go To War With Google Over Stupid Comments By Eric Schmidt

from the what-a-mess dept

What a world we live in, where a giant country and a giant company may be about to go to war. At a security conference, Alphabet “executive chairman” Eric Schmidt made some fairly dumb comments saying that the company was looking at downranking sites like RT and Sputnik:

?We?re working on detecting this kind of scenario … and de-ranking those kinds of sites,? Schmidt said, in response to a question at an event in Halifax, Canada. ?It?s basically RT and Sputnik. We?re well aware and we?re trying to engineer the systems to prevent it.?

To be clear: I have no doubt that RT and Sputnik have engaged in attempts to push anti-US propaganda in the US. That seems fairly obvious at this point. My concern is twofold: first of all, saying that “it’s basically RT and Sputnik” suggests Schmidt thinks that the issue is just those two sites and merely downranking them will solve problems related to propaganda. That’s both wrong and naive. Second, having the executive chair of Google’s parent company directly announce that Google is working on ways to downrank two specific sites is bad. Part of Google’s longstanding position has always been that they don’t interfere to go after specific sites, in part because that creates a massive slippery slope. Of course, Google gave up on part of that position five years ago when it caved in to Hollywood and agreed to start downranking sites based on accusations (not actual convictions) of copyright infringement.

Directly coming out and saying that Google is targeting these two sites — no matter how bad those sites are — only reinforces the idea that Google will ideologically rank sites, rather than focus on what was its core mission of helping people find the information they were looking for.

And, of course, there are the wider implications of this — whereby you now have the head of Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor, threatening to retaliate should Google actually downrank those sites:

Alexander Zharov, head of media regulator Roskomnadzor, said his agency sent a letter to Google on Tuesday requesting clarification on comments Saturday by Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt about how the Russian websites would be treated in search, according to Interfax.

?We will receive an answer and understand what to do next,? Interfax quoted Zharov as saying. ?We hope our opinion will be heard, and we won?t have to resort to more serious? retaliatory measures.

Now that’s quite an interesting SEO strategy, to have a nuclear power threaten retaliation for dropping in the rankings. Never mind that this is the same Roskomnadzor currently involved in a corruption scandal, and which has been pushing forward on widespread internet censorship without due process.

The whole thing seems like quite a mess — one that easily could have been avoided if Schmidt hadn’t specifically called out those two sites, which, at best, are only a small corner of a larger issue. It would have been fine to suggest that Google was looking to algorithmically do a better job of minimizing false reports or outright propaganda (though, even that might raise serious questions). But to single out two specific sites backed by the Russian government just seems dumb. On the flip side, having Roskomnadzor hit back so strongly also seems fairly short-sighted, as it appears to be the Russian government more or less admitting that it relied on US companies to spread propaganda, and it won’t tolerate efforts to diminish the power of its propaganda.

Of course, it does seem worth noting that three years ago, Google shut down its Russian office just as Russia picked up its efforts to censor the internet in that country. So it’s not as if Google and the Russian government haven’t been at odds before — but this certainly feels like an escalation.

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Companies: alphabet, google, rt, sputnik

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Comments on “Russia Threatens To Go To War With Google Over Stupid Comments By Eric Schmidt”

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47 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

MM just can't give up the Russian "toxic disinformation" notion!

Even while (rightly) stating that Schmidt is a lying idiot.

You (and most of your ilk) are getting your thinks and double-thinks tangled up in reality.

According to you, the TINY bit of propaganda / advertising / truth-telling that Russia does (pretty openly) outweighs ALL of the 850,000 spooks in “Top Secret America”, and such CIA programs as directly funding Washington Post with $600 million dollars, and now funding Bezos with a new “secret cloud” on Amazon. — You never even mention that!

In contrast, here’s an excellent view of how Russia regards American propaganda:
“Re-visiting Russian counter-propaganda methods – The Saker”
https://thesaker.is/re-visiting-russian-counter-propaganda-methods/

Basically says that the Rooskis FEATURE US propaganda, hire “experts” to be on their TV, and laugh like hell.

And I certainly find Techdirt amusing!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The Russians should be careful...

True, but…

Russian is fundamentally a weak nation: it’s economy isn’t doing that well (particularly after being extensively looted by oligarchs), it no longer poses a credible naval threat to any but the smallest nations, it is overly sensitive to the petroleum market, and corruption is rampant.

Think of it as Mexico with nuclear weapons.

Not that Google’s a match for it, of course, but when the time comes that we in the US have cleaned our own house by removing their puppets, we’ll turn our attention to them.

Which they know. And fear.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The Russians should be careful...

Actually Google could win. Russia does have all that nuclear and army stuff but Google isn’t a country, they just operate within other countries. Therefore Russia would actually have to attack say the US or Britain, or China, or Japan to actually physically attack Google.

I’m guessing Russia isn’t willing to go that far just over some search rankings. More likely they would step up their hacking and propaganda campaigns which potentially puts them each on even footing.

Anonymous Coward says:

anti-US propaganda

Yes they do that. But frankly some of the critical shit they say SHOULD be said. And frankly “Redacted Tonight” is one of the funniest fucking shows on T.V.

I’ve been looking abroad for news for over a decade. Not just RT but all of the foreign channels. You get a better view of what is actually going on in the U.S. by looking at their news, than you do by looking at our news.

And to be “anti-US” is by definition being against the principles of the U.S. Constitution. And I’ve seen ALL of the trinity of cabal news take stances very much against constitutional principles when it suited the corporate hands that flutter beneath their skirts.

So how about de-ranking ALL content that is intentionally deceptive? Oh right. That would mean de-ranking advertising. My bad…

Anonymous Coward says:

A few of us still remember the time when Google was adamant about delivering completely unbiased, unmanipulated, undoctored, search results. Sadly those days are long gone, and the gradual abandonment of Google’s early ideals continues onward.

Whether labeled “propaganda” or not, non-US media companies provide a valuable service by reporting on news and issues that American mainstream media companies refuse to cover.

For instance, the USS Liberty’s annual Washington, D.C. memorial service could be one such example. No U.S. mainstream media has EVER attended, but RT is there year after year, ignoring the media blackout as well as the accusations of anti-Semitism against those who dare to show up, or heaven forbid, ask the ‘wrong’ questions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

To be honest I haven’t seen much of value from RT. They are often too far into conspiratorial editorializing to be seen as a news source. If you want information from Russia, use direct sources. I find that the official russian propaganda at least has a factual basis you can help to inform an opinion around.

The OP describes the situation well, as it is stupid to point specific sites out. But the Rozkomnadzor response is lowering the parade by defending the sites. If they defend these sites with more serious actions, they are also admitting that the sites are of importance to Rozkomnadzor or indirectly that Rozkomnadzor is anything but unbiased.

Even though Rozkomnadzor may be corrupt (what isn’t today?), the implication of them acting like a gatekeeper for information from the internet is not likely to be popular.

JEDIDIAH says:

Re: Re: Better the Devil that doesn't pretend.

So? They provide an alternative viewpoint. That’s always useful. At least this is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

At least back in the day’s of party rags, people were honest about the manure they were peddling. There was no pretense and sanctimony about it.

Outlets that pretend not to have an agenda are far more dangerous.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Citation (other than Vanity Fair) needed.

Even so, for Google to lose, Russia would have to detonate an EMP at every datacenter Google owns. Assuming the datacenters aren’t already shielded against EMPs. That would require essentially mounting a full scale assault on multiple foreign countries, essentially declaring war on the world and kicking off WW3.

I seriously doubt Russia is willing to go that far over how high it ranks in Googles search results.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Kibiny

This is an example of Russian propaganda right here. A quick search on the key word “Khibiny” produces a bunch of references that (a) explain that Khibiny is a Russian ECM suite, and (b) Russian claims to have disabled anything of consequence are bogus. As an aside, while the integration of the Khibiny ECM technology in the Su-34 air frame is impressive, its small size in comparison to an AEGIS ship borne or NORAD ground based RADAR is indicative that it transmit power can only be a mere fraction of larger RADARs, limiting it to defensive ECM and incapable of offensive ECM.

crade (profile) says:

what the heck? Your quote from the exec and the things you say about the quote from the exec don’t mesh.

He says the issue is “basically RT and sputnik”, which may be an over simplification but at no point does he say the solution is going to be to just downrank those two sites.. in fact what he does say
(“We’re working on detecting this kind of scenario … and de-ranking those kinds of sites, ” we’re trying to engineer the systems to prevent it.”)

At no point does he say they are working on ways to downrank those specific sites
he basically says the exact opposite, that they are working on a generally applicable solution despite the fact that they think the issue is mostly coming from RT and sputnik.

Anonymous Coward says:

This article leaves me with the impression you don’t have all the background on this, or left it out. Google is being pressured by US ICs to make this adjustment. It wasn’t their first choice and they tried to push back. But Russia engaged in cyberwar during our election, and RT and Sputnik played a role in that. Expect more of this sort of thing over the next few years. It could get ugly.

GristleMissile (profile) says:

Ummm, yeeaaahhh, Russian propaganda is protected by the first amendment just like our own propaganda.

If the (formerly) Red Menace is able to convince our people via the power of their words, then that means they won the battle of ideas. This whole Russia scare is one giant temper tantrum by the Democratic party that they got caught behaving badly, and possibly illegally.

There are no propaganda exceptions to the first amendment, just like there are no hate speech exceptions. There are also no exceptions for deliberate falsehoods, because a lie can still serve as a parable.

Here’s the full text “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Eh, I agreed with you until I saw evidence of actual tampering and dark money, etc. Then I saw evidence of trolls engaging with the population working to spread misinformation by convincing them they’re friends on the same side.

At that point, I started to change my mind. I’ve not yet made it up but the evidence is pulling me towards the “Russians interfered” side.

The Russians offered us a chance to make friends with them but we batted them off for the sake of the military-industrial complex. We reap what we sow. Now the days of American hegemony are over and the world is moving on without you. I’m not sure that’s a good thing but from this side of the Pond it’s like watching a giant dumpster burn in slow motion.

Anonymous Coward says:

It is the only major TV network

that I recall that has ever interviewed Richard Stallman. And there have been a number of other interesting interviews with civil rights leaders that they have done over the years.

The trinity of cabal news only gives air time to paying customers, and the Constitution doesn’t make adbuys.

So yes, they do propagandize. But so do the others. And if you’d ever lived outside the United States, you’d have a better view of how utterly batshit the trinity really is.

Yes they agree with you sometimes. That is part of the con.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why not just leave RT.com alone, but everytime it comes up, UPRANK the actually true stories about Putin having people murdered, raped, tortured etc because they refused to hand their assets over to one of his lickspittles?

Or just have every single link from google to rt.com or sputnik go via a page detailing (in Russian AND English) exactly the corruption of Alexander Zharov.

cattress (profile) says:

Google’s talks of de-ranking or downranking certain Russian news (does that need scare quotes?) is a response to public and Congressional pressure to “DO Something!”. I’m not even sure it was a bad idea for them name a few sites specifically, because maybe that will appease these jokers looking to suppress free speech and they will shut up and go away; one can dream can’t she?
I mean, does anyone seriously think bumping down articles from RT or Sputnik, refusing to sell ad space to Russians, and whatever other nonsense that has been proposed for tech companies to prevent foreign influence is going to actually going to work? The Russians will never figure out that they could pay for ad-space with Bitcoin? Or create a whole different news platform, that may present itself as from an allied nation, and actually targets a different audience? Come on!
And is there anyone out there who feels as though they were duped by Russian trolls, memes and/or articles from RT, to such a degree that they actually decided or changed their mind on whom to vote for? Know why nobody is claiming that they were personally influenced, because the propaganda was simply confirmation bias for a narrative they already believed. Russians didn’t create themes to sow discord among us, they selected from issues that were already points of contention.
Personally, I would rather have more personal flexibility in adjusting the settings of my search results, or news feeds, than for Google or Facebook to decide what to protect me from. I have the sense and ability to make sure my sources are credible, and come from a variety of viewpoints. If there is a market of people who have trouble vetting their news sources, than the tech industry should serve them on demand.

Anonymous Coward says:

Eric Schmidt in a nutshell: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place, but if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines including Google do retain this information for some time, and it’s important, for example that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act. It is possible that that information could be made available to the authorities.”

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Watching you get sort of pretend mad at Google is pretty entertaining.

“…Google’s longstanding position has always been that they don’t interfere to go after specific sites…”

Google generally says “we try to fix things in the algo”. They have done that for years, and when Matt Cutts was in charge of webspam and whatnot, he would issue the standard individual site denials on a regular basis.

Yet, Google in their webmaster tools has a section to show you when you site has be subject to a manual penalty. So wait, they don’t deal with individual sites but they have a way to explain manual penalties? Oh, the contradictions!

You also have to consider the whole EU anti-trust thing. One of the things Google has always been good at is manipulating their own results to favor their own projects and properties. Back in the early days, if you put adsense on a site, it was reported that you might be more highly ranked in the results.

Manually adjusting results, or putting a virtual thumb on a given site, isn’t anything new. Google hates to talk about it, they would never want to admit it, but they have the ability and have used the ability to manipulate results.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Of course, Google gave up on part of that position five years ago when it caved in to Hollywood and agreed to start downranking sites based on accusations (not actual convictions) of copyright infringement.” etc… etc… etc…

But that hasn’t stopped Mike from sucking their monetary cock in perpetuity. Mike, one day you’re going to get what’s coming to you and the rest of the world is going to laugh your ass to scorn – and rightly so – you deserve every bit of it.

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