Frank W. Haubold

Frank W. Haubold, born 1955, has a PhD in computer science and is an author.

Source: Josef Hanus / Shutterstock.com Wrote 'The Castle' in 1922: Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

Concealed Censorship:
A Castle Called Google

A Kafkasque Dialog

As recently reported, at the beginning of May Google Inc. removed three German blogs or rather magazines from the Google news index, including eigentümlich frei, so that current articles no longer appear under ‘news.’ The suppliers weren’t notified, so Mr. K. had the audacious idea to ask the company for their reasons. This turned out to be difficult initially, and, had he not received a helpful clue from a knowledgeable fellow traveller, he would not even have gotten anywhere close to the castle. For simple e-mails to Google-Service are all roundly rejected with reference to the help pages. So Mr. K., using an invented ID, inquired about a certain article, whereupon the following dialog began:

Mr. K.’s request via online form:

“example_article_url: http://ef-magazin.de/2017/06/02/11115-ursula-von-der-leyen-die-bundeswehr-und-der-bildersturm

additional_details: Since beginning of May none of these magazine’s articles are indicated in Google News. If this is no technical problem, it is a kind of censorship which is incompatible with your company’s claim regarding transparency and freedom of expression.”

The reply from the castle was this: “Thank you for making us aware of the missing presence of your website content on Google News. I’ve checked the details of your website, and it seems as if http://ef-magazin.de/ isn’t yet included in our index. Because of this we aren’t in a position to index the content of your website on Google News. I would therefore suggest that you read our detailed guidelines and directives for a successful inclusion in Google News. If after that you think that the website meets our quality and technical requirements we encourage you to go to Google News Publisher Center and apply for inclusion in Google News. As soon as your website is included in Google News, we will begin to index your page content in Google News. Let me know if you have more questions, I am happy to help. Many thanks again for your interest in Google News.”

Query from Mr. K.: “Many thanks for your reply. However, as I already wrote, eigentümlich frei was already in the Google News index. You can check that by entering ‘site eigentümlich frei’. Since beginning of May however no new articles have appeared there. Thus, a manual intervention must have occurred, as programs do not change their behavior of their own accord. I would ask you to check this issue and, as the case may be, arrange a re-indexing. By the way, the link to the Publisher Center provided by you does not work (screen remains blank).”

Reply from the castle: “Many thanks for your reply. I have further checked the details of your page and have realised that you have used your website ‘http://ef-magazin.de/’ for the application in April 2017. Unfortunately we cannot currently include your website in Google News. For websites included in Google News there are certain guidelines that must be met. You can check the relevant guidelines under the following link: https://support.google.com/news/publisher/answer/40787?hl=de. Please feel free to check these guidelines and to re-apply after 60 days. You will automatically receive the option to apply through Google News Publisher. We apologise for not being able to supply you with more information currently and thank you for your understanding and effort. Thank you for your friendly cooperation in this matter.”

Renewed query from Mr. K.: “Would you then please inform me why you cannot include the website? It can’t be a breach of the ‘quality guidelines,’ as the website was for years previously listed in Google News. Please forward the following message on to your superior: ‘At the beginning of May, Google removed the websites of at least three conservative, but also libertarian, blogs from Google News. They are the pages http://ef-magazin.de, https://sezession.de, https://www.blauenarzisse.de. A coincidence is impossible, as for years new articles of all three contributors were indexed under Google News. Thus this has been a deliberate move to curtail free speech, and it can be assumed that government agencies have had an influence. Google Inc. advertises with words such as transparency and freedom of expression. Not only by complying with government wishes to censor, but also by doing this surreptitiously, without informing those concerned, both these principles have been blatantly violated. I could imagine that making this procedure public in the US could indeed attract some attention, as freedom of speech is still highly valued there. As an author and occasional writer for the magazine eigentümlich frei I feel personally impacted by Google Inc.’s un-transparent and unconstitutional censorious activity. I expect you to investigate this accusation and to react appropriately.’”

Answer from the castle: “I would like to tell you that we review news sources, especially after complaints from users, in order to ensure that Google News offers a high standard of user experience. However, as we’ve already said, we’ve checked your page and determined that we can’t currently include your website in Google News. I would therefore advise you to read our guidelines in order to ensure that your website conforms to our guidelines. You can re-apply for inclusion in Google News after 60 days. Please let me know if you have more questions, I am happy to help. Many thanks again for your interest in Google News!”

Mr. K. still does not give up: “Thank you for your reply. It was neither an answer to my question, nor a confirmation of receipt of my complaint. I hereby ask you again clearly: First: What is the reason for Google News suddenly removing from its index a website it had included for years? Second: Have you forwarded to your superiors my complaint regarding the possibly politically motivated censorship?”

Reply from the castle: “Thank you for your reply. We are often not in a position to give feedback on individual websites or to personally answer questions regarding our guidelines. However, you can address your questions to your peers in our help forum for publishers and web-publishers. You can also use our official feedback option by going to the news.google.com start page and clicking on ‘feedback’. That way you can hand in your complaint about the allegedly politically motivated censorship to us. Thank you for contacting Google News.”

Mr. K., slightly exasperated: “Why do you shirk from a clear answer? In an earlier answer, you wrote: ‘However, as we’ve already said, we’ve checked your page and determined that we can’t currently include your website in Google News.’ So that begs the question, why you ‘can’t’ or don’t want to do it. If you do not answer such a simple question or instead refer to a heap of guidelines, the suspicion arises that you have something to hide. So my assumption is probably right that you’ve removed the website from Google News due to a denunciation, but you do not want to admit that. If there was a real shortcoming, the provider could possibly correct that. But you refuse to name this shortcoming. Excuse me, but a reputable company that has written openness and transparency on its banners doesn’t act with such trickery and deviousness. And you know just too well that users never receive an answer to submissions under ‘feedback.’ That is no personal recrimination of course, as you are obviously prohibited to disclose the truth, but such company policy is somewhat disgraceful. It is unfortunate that a global and by no means un-influential company such as Google allows itself to be manipulated with such ease and compliance by politically motivated denouncers and then is even too cowardly to admit this.

Relaxed answer from the castle: “Many thanks for your e-mail. I can fully understand your concerns and that it is frustrating that a specific reason for the rejection cannot be given. However, we have to keep to our procedures. I would therefore advise you to contact the participants in our forum. Publishers who take part in the forum can inspect your website and possibly help you to solve problems. Many thanks for your understanding.”

Mr. K. through gritted teeth: “Thank you for your message. It’s nice that you can understand my displeasure. However, your conduct is not suited to reduce it. So, according to the procedures in your company it is legitimate to remove websites from the Google News index without informing the providers? And it is illegitimate, or even prohibited, to inform them upon request about the reasons? Have I understood this correctly? If yes, then Kafka’s ‘Castle’ is much more accessible than your company with regard to dealings with news providers. And your ‘advice’ to me is to talk to completely uninvolved third parties, who know neither the website nor the history of the event, about how to solve this? Why not with the parcel deliverer or the local barber? You are obviously unable to grasp the idea that you alone as the company who has caused the problem have a duty to disclose. George Orwell would probably go green with envy if he were to hear of this kind of concealed censorship, which is unworthy of a company as important and competent as Google Inc. In conclusion, I challenge you and your superiors once more to disclose to us the reasons for rejecting the inclusion in the Google News index.”

Since then, the castle has been silent.

Translated from eigentümlich frei, where the original article was published on 25th July 2017.

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