Google Algorithm Biased Voters to the Con Arguments on Prop 24

Sacramento, CA — Today, the Yes on Prop 24 campaign announced that Prop 24 would help stop biased algorithms being used against political campaigns, in response to a discovery that Google was presenting a summary opposed to Prop 24. 

This week, Prop 24 was the only one of 12 ballot measures where the Google “snippet,” a summary of the nonpartisan Secretary of State’s Voter Information Guide, presented the “Con” argument’s negative propaganda, as can be seen here

Google uses its “snippets” algorithm to summarize the official government document, but the summary for Prop 24 showed only the opposition argument, whereas for all eleven other California ballot measures, Google showed either just the actual ballot title, or arguments from the “Pro” side. 

“As voters are searching for information about ballot measures, our hope is that they receive unbiased and clear results that help inform their decision,” said Yes on Prop 24 campaign manager Robin Swanson. “The fact that the online version of an official state document from the Secretary of State’s web site, perhaps the most important document to ensure free and fair elections, was summarized in biased fashion by Google’s algorithm, is a violation of the public trust.”

Prop 24 campaign chair Alastair Mactaggart said “Google’s response to this issue, that the Secretary of State should adjust its website to fit Google’s algorithm, is unacceptably arrogant.  The Voter Guide is an official state document, and government agencies can not be in a position of having to jump through a private company’s hoops, to ensure that the public sees a fair and balanced presentation of the ballot.  Google is, for many Americans, the arbiter of truth; and in an election season, it must hold itself to the highest standards to ensure that it’s presenting an unbiased version of official documents.  The Secretary of State’s job is to put its entire Voter Information Guide online.  And if Google is going to summarize the Guide, its job is to do so in unbiased fashion.  This demonstration of Google’s power, is all the more reason we need to pass Prop 24 – to ensure private companies cannot unduly influence elections, and to ensure we the people are still the ones in charge.”

Prop 24 would allow consumers to object to profiling and automated decision-making, and would provide consumers with ‘meaningful information about the logic involved’ in algorithms like this one.  In a case like this, Prop 24 would allow Californians find out why Google’s algorithm was presenting the opposition side for only one of 12 state ballot measures.

Late Thursday, the Secretary of State coded a workaround to the Google algorithms that returned biased results, demonstrating once again Google’s immense power, which can force the government agency entrusted with ensuring free and fair elections in California, to bow before its algorithm.

Tom Kemp, former CEO of the cybersecurity firm Centrify, discovered similar issues with the Google snippet algorithm affecting Ballotpedia and worked with the non-partisan online election source to correct the Google algorithm bias on their site. 

Consumer Watchdog, a strong endorser of Prop 24, has called for legislative hearings on the issue. Read the letter here.

“It would be an extraordinary coincidence that the one measure that threatens Google’s business model – forcing it to disclose the logic behind its algorithm and prevent it from using our most sensitive information – is also the only one that includes negative propaganda in the link to a nonpartisan source,” Consumer Watchdog advocates Jamie Court and Carmen Balber wrote.

About Prop 24 / The California Privacy Rights Act

Proposition 24 would:

  1. Protect your most personal information, by allowing you to prevent businesses from using or sharing sensitive information about your health, finances, race, ethnicity, and precise location;
  2. Safeguard young people, TRIPLING FINES for violations involving children’s information;
  3. Put new limits on companies’ collection and use of our personal information;
  4. Establish an enforcement arm—the California Privacy Protection Agency—to defend these rights and hold companies accountable, and extend enforcement including IMPOSING PENALTIES FOR NEGLIGENCE resulting in theft of consumers’ emails and passwords;
  5. MAKE IT MUCH HARDER TO WEAKEN PRIVACY in California in the future, by preventing special interests and politicians from undermining Californians’ privacy rights, while allowing the Legislature to amend the law to further the primary goal of strengthening consumer privacy to better protect you and your children, such as opt-in for use of data, further protections for uniquely vulnerable minors, and greater power for individuals to hold violators accountable.

Yes on 24 Supporters

The Yes on Prop 24 campaign is proud to have the endorsement of former Presidential candidate Andrew Yang, Los Angeles Times editorial board, Sacramento Bee and Fresno Bee editorial board, Congressman Ro Khanna, California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, California State Controller Betty Yee, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Consumer Reports, Common Sense Media, Consumer Watchdog, AFSCME California, the NAACP of California, California Professional Firefighters, California State Building and Construction Trades Council, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, Local 21 (Bay Area), UA Local 38 Plumbers and Pipefitters, California State Senators Ben Allen, Bill Dodd, Lena Gonzalez, Connie Leyva, Bill Monning, Nancy Skinner, Robert Hertzberg, Scott Wiener, Bob Wieckowski and Jim Beall, California State Assemblymembers Cecilia Aguiar-Curry and David Chiu, John Burton, Former Chair of the California Democratic Party, Alex Rooker and Daraka Larimore Hall, Vice Chairs of the California Democratic Party, Dan Weitzman, Controller of the California Democratic Party, Jenny Bach, Secretary of the California Democratic Party, Dr. Lisa Strohman, JD, PhD, and more.

About Californians for Consumer Privacy

Californians for Consumer Privacy is the same group that authored the first-in-the-nation California Consumer Privacy Act, which was passed unanimously by the California State Legislature and signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown. Now the group is backing Prop 24, the California Privacy Rights Act on the 2020 ballot, to expand and enshrine privacy rights for all Californians.