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Google employees reportedly talked search tweaks to combat Trump's travel ban

Emails discussed how to "leverage" the web giant's search function to counter Trump's controversial ban, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Google Campus
Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images

Google employees discussed changes to the company's web search functions in an effort to counter the Trump administration's controversial travel ban that went into effect last year, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The tweaks to the system would have shown users how to contribute to pro-immigration organizations and how to contact lawmakers and government agencies, the newspaper reported, citing internal company emails.

The Journal reported that the emails discussed ways to "leverage" search functionality to combat what they considered to be "islamophobic, algorithmically biased results from search terms 'Islam', 'Muslim', 'Iran', etc." and "prejudiced, algorithmically biased search results from search terms 'Mexico', 'Hispanic', 'Latino', etc."

The disclosure of the emails is likely to intensify scrutiny of Google among conservatives, who have recently accused the company of political bias in the company's services. Earlier this month, Google skipped a high-profile hearing on Capitol Hill, at which Congress grilled Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey over election integrity, security and the perceived leanings of the company's algorithms. The decision to not send Google CEO Sundar Pichai or Alphabet CEO Larry Page drew widespread ire from lawmakers.

Google said Thursday that none of the ideas discussed were ever implemented.

"These emails were just a brainstorm of ideas, none of which were ever implemented," a Google spokesperson said in a statement. "Google has never manipulated its search results or modified any of its products to promote a particular political ideology -- not in the current campaign season, not during the 2016 election, and not in the aftermath of President Trump's executive order on immigration. Our processes and policies would not have allowed for any manipulation of search results to promote political ideologies."

That may do little to satisfy President Donald Trump, who last month accused Google of political bias. He tweeted that Google's search results are "RIGGED," saying the company is "suppressing voices of Conservatives."

That criticism was fueled by the publishing of a leaked video last week that showed Google co-founder Sergey Brin telling a company gathering that he felt offended by the 2016 election. The video, published by Breitbart, was shot at one of Google's weekly "TGIF" meeting days after Trump was elected president.

"Let's face it, most people here are pretty upset and pretty sad because of the election," Brin, who also serves as president of Google parent company Alphabet, said in the video. "As an immigrant and a refugee, I find this election deeply offensive, and I'm sure many of you do too."

Last year, Pichai joined Apple CEO Tim Cook and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and more than 300 others in signing a group letter to Trump, expressing their opposition to his decision to end DACA, a controversial Obama-era immigration program that offers undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children a chance to work and study without fear of deportation.

A Google spokeswoman said last week that the remarks at the meeting have no bearing on how Google builds its products.

The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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