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Google says it will block autocomplete for searches that suggest voting outcomes

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Alphabet Inc., gestures while speaking during a discussion on artificial intelligence at the Bruegel European economic think tank in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. Pichai urged the U.S. and European Union to coordinate regulatory approaches on artificial intelligence, calling their alignment critical.

Geert Vanden Wijngaert | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Google said Thursday that it will remove search autocomplete predictions that “could be interpreted as claims for or against any candidate or political party.” It’ll also remove statements about voting methods and the status of voting locations as well as the legitimacy of elections including security of the election.

Google autocomplete recommends searches based on what a user is typing into the search box in a Chrome browser or on Google.com.

“We want to be very careful about those sorts of predictions,” David Graff, Google’s senior director of trust and safety, told reporters on a press call ahead of the announcement Thursday. “This election, people will have strong opinions, and given the backdrop of Covid-19, the change with elections is to be more conservative in terms of queries.” 

The policy update comes as Google, among other firms like Facebook and Twitter which are trying to cut down on misinformation, prepares for a heated presidential election.

The company gave examples of phrases it’ll block such as a prediction that says “donate to” any party or candidate, or predictions like “you can vote by phone” as well as “you can’t vote by phone.”

“It’s been fairly unprecedented — the scale of information challenges particularly with Covid,” said Cathy Edwards, vice president of engineering at Google. “We don’t want to have policy changes on Election Day,” she added. “That’s a goal for us, certainly.”

The company said it has an “Intelligence Desk,” which is a global team of analysts monitoring news events 24 hours a day. The same desk has been monitoring claims about Covid treatments. The group will keep a close eye on Election Day to prevent too early election outcomes from appearing in search, Google said.

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