President Trump has raised the profile of the issue, and now a film is debuting Thursday that contends Google has crossed its executive chairman's self-described "creepy line," not only invading the privacy of millions of users but using its monopolistic stature to suppress conservative views and influence elections.
The producer of "The Creepy Line," Peter Schweizer, told WND in an interview Thursday that Google's frequent protestations that it provides a "neutral platform" free of bias lack credibility.
For years, Schweizer argued, when companies such as Yelp charged that Google was suppressing or manipulating the algorithm on commercial searches to its own benefit, the tech giant repeatedly denied the claims.
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"We now know that the Federal Trade Commission, the European Union and private academics have found that that's exactly what Google is doing," said Schweizer, the author of politically influential books such as "Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich" and "Secret Empires: How Our Politicians Hide Corruption and Enrich Their Families and Friends."
"So, I don't think Google at this point deserves the benefit of any doubt, because when they have been challenged on this issue in the past, they have not been honest and forthright."
The film debuts Thursday at the Toronto International Film Festival and will be screened Sept. 17 in New York City and Sept. 19 in Washington, D.C.
The trailer opens asking, "What if your whole life was taken over, analyzed and exploited, and you signed up for it?"
"Google and Facebook, they'll sell you anything. They'll sell you," says a voiceover.
Schweizer insists the Google algorithm itself is not neutral, rebutting claims that the left-leaning results in news searches about which Trump has complained are due to other factors.
"The algorithm reflects the biases of the people who create it," Schweizer maintained.
The film cites the research of Robert Epstein, an American psychologist and professor who concluded that during the 2016 election, Google heavily biased results in favor of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, possibly shifting as many as 3 million votes.
"And it crossed all sorts of demographic groups, all sorts of geographic locations and it exhibited bias in every research position," Schweizer said.
"It's not possible that this is just randomized or search engine optimization gone wild. There is something deeply systematic going on."
Schweizer argues that since it's been determined that Google's algorithm is biased in commercial searches, "there's no reason the same thing is not going on in the political realm."
Google's burning man
Some argue a company such as Google that is reliant on a large market share wouldn't risk alienating a substantial portion of its customers.
"First of all, they're not alienating anyone, because it's very very difficult to detect," Schweizer responded. "But the larger issue is that Google has said from the beginning they are not just a company that is interested in market share.
"They have a broader social mission," he said.
Schweizer emphasized that those are the words of Google's leadership, not his, noting the company is structured to ensure the original owners, Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and President Sergey Brin, maintain control.
It was Schmidt who provided the movie its title.
Speaking at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., in 2010, he said: "There is what I call the creepy line. The Google policy on a lot of things is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it."
Responding to a question at the event, Schmidt also joking said that implanting microchips in people's brains would cross the creepy line "at least for the moment, until the technology gets better."
Brin, at a tech event the same year, said he wanted Google to become "the third half of your brain."
"They've demonstrated in their actions and their words what they are," Schweizer told WND.
He noted Schmidt's role in the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016 and the "massive revolving door between Google and the Obama administration."
"Life After Google" author George Gilder also has documented the Google founders' world-changing vision, which he describes with terms such as "neo-Marxist."
"They are very much steeped in the tradition of Burning Man and what Burning Man represents," Schweizer said of Google's top executives, including Schmidt, and their participation in the annual Bohemian-style festival in the Nevada desert known for its principle of "radical inclusion."
Schweizer emphasized that Google is certainly entitled to its worldview and can run the company as it wishes, but it can't continue to insist that it's a neutral platform and therefore immune to the requirements that publishers face under the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
Google is not a neutral platform, like a telegraph company, he said, that merely relays information from one point to another.
"We now know they edit content, they suppress content, they filter content with a certain editorial agenda," he said.
"They are free to do that, but then call them what they are, which is a media company."
Truth in labeling
Schweizer argued that Google should be regulated as a media company.
"I don't think it's a question of creating new laws or regulations. I think it's a question of applying the law as it now actually exists fairly to all companies," he said.
"As conservatives, we believe in truth in labeling, and we believe regulations ought to be applied uniformly and there ought to be consistency in the law."
Google and Facebook have been able to avoid regulations to which publishers and communications companies are subject, he noted.
Shortly after executives from Facebook and Twitter testified Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee -- Google declined to send its CEO -- the Justice Department announced Attorney General Jeff Sessions will meet with state attorneys general to discuss "growing concern" over censorship by Google and other social-media platforms, suggesting they are violating antitrust laws.
Schweizer cautioned that antitrust laws can be "over-applied," but he believes the discussion needs to take place.
Google, he said, is "engaging in serious market destruction and there is serious harm to the consumer," with "a virtual monopoly on search" and "dominance in a whole host of other sectors."
He believes the issues can be addressed through the Communications Decency Act, "but if that's not the route, then antitrust is the only option."
A good market solution, he said, would be for Google to post a disclaimer disclosing that it is filtering and restricting content.
"Right now, it's a little akin to buying a pack of cigarettes with no warning label, and people assume it's gotta be safe," he said. "In the case of Google, (people think) it's gotta be neutral, it's gotta be accurate."
Google argues it makes those disclosures in its terms of service.
"But nobody reads it. It's not accessible, written in a language hard to understand," Schweizer said.
Another free-market solution would be to allow an independent audit of the algorithm by a non-profit, independent body.
A surprise audit could be done, he said, in a way that protects corporate secrets.
'Free services' not free
The film features commentary from internet sensation Jordan Peterson.
A professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Peterson discovered a day after his testimony against a controversial Canadian law suppressing free speech regarding gender that his YouTube account and Google gmail account had been blocked.
"It was a pretty clear cut case of censorship," Schweizer said. "He also has remarkable insight into technology and the power of Google."
Peterson comments in the film that the "free services" offered by the tech giants are not really free.
It's a point made by Gilder in "Life After Google," which contends that amid daily news of censorship, privacy violations and market monopolization, the age of the tech giants and their centralized, top-down hierarchical world is about to end, largely because their “neo-Marxist, deterministic” worldview is “fundamentally flawed.”
Google's products are free because a price of zero, he told WND in an interview, signifies a return to the ancient barter system, and what is exchanged for the goods is a person’s attention and ultimately their time, which, Gilder points out, "is actually your life."
The digital world after Google, says Gilder, who provided the blueprint for Reagan's economic revolution and predicted the iPhone among other innovations, will be a new frontier of free enterprise that will look more like the original internet of limitless possibilities, but be bolstered by a new architecture rooted in security and private property.