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REPRO FREE 28/08/2018 Fionnuala Meehan, Head Of Google Ireland pictured with as Google launched its Staying Ahead Digital Roadshow in Limerick. Today Google launched its Staying Ahead Digital Roadshow, the first in a series of events held in partnership with Enterprise Ireland which aims to upskill and educate Irish SMEs in reaching new customers, expanding their businesses, and future-proofing their operations for a digital world. The first event took place in Limerick today and was attended by over 150 people from SMEs across the midwest region. Speakers at the event included Minister Pat Breen TD, Minister of State for Trade, Business and EU Digital Single Market, Jonathan McMillan of the Enterprise Ireland Brexit Unit, and Caroline Dunlea, CEO of Shannon company, Core Optimisation. Pic: Don Moloney

Google: “We’re working to stop misinformation”

FIONNUALA Meehan, head of Google in Ireland, has defended the company’s record on privacy, its use
of people’s information and the company’s impact on politics.

Ms Meehan attended a business event in Limerick on Tuesday on the same day that US president Donald
Trump tweeted that “Google & others are suppressing voices and Conservatives and hiding information
and news that is good.”

Most people take Trump’s social media utterances with a pinch of salt, but there is no doubt that Google,
and a handful of other technology companies, have a previously unseen level of global influence, which is
potentially very malevolent if not used responsibly.

Ms Meehan claimed the company are taking its obligations in this area very seriously. “We are a platform
and the platform can be used in different ways. We have a whole team who look at developing and
enforcing policies around how bad actors could potentially use that platform in a way that spreads
misinformation.

“On Search, with fact-checking, we work with third-party factchecking organisations, allowing people to
report if they don’t think the search results are bona fide. From a Google News perspective, working with
authoritative news sources, things like that. We’re definitely looking for how bad actors could potentially
abuse the platforms and go against our policies, but also partnering with third-party organisations on
things like-fact checking,” she claimed.

But even deciding who are “bad actors” is very problematic, when competing ideologies clash, so who
can decide what thinking is right or wrong? “You start with the law in the first instance. You
look at your policies, the policies develop over time, and some of the topics that we develop policies
around now didn’t exist five years ago. It’s definitely an evolving topic.”

On May 9 Google announced it was suspending all ads related to the Referendum on the Eighth
Amendment, just 16 days before Ireland went to the polls. Defending the 11th hour, move Ms Sheehan
said, “That was an evolving situation and the decision was made to create a level playing field because we
were banning all ads, no matter where they were coming from.”

But surely disrupting plans at such a late stage only distorted the so-called level playing field she referred
to, as it inevitably disrupted carefully made campaign plans? “We’re not necessarily privy to what people
were going to spend or the plans that they had. Obviously Search was available and YouTube videos, not
related to ads, were still available.”

She acknowledged that the influence of the company on politics still needs to be worked on. “I think
Google in general is looking at transparency tools around political ads and issue ads. It’s an incredibly
complex topic and we’re initially thinking about the mid-term elections in the US, how we have the
transparency tools around that. That’s where we’re starting and those efforts will continue over time.”

Google recently revised an incorrect description of how its location history setting works, sparking further
concerns about its attitude to its users. It comes just after the introduction of General Data Protection
Regulation (GDPR) in the EU, which she claimed the company has put significant resources into. “I think
when it comes to GDPR, obviously that’s now law and we’ve spent a huge amount of time as a company,
to make sure we’re complying with that law.

“It has involved a lot of different projects internally to make sure our staff are trained and to make sure
that our terms and conditions have been updated, so it’s of course front and centre for us that we would be
complying with that law. But we expect to come under scrutiny, that is the norm for us now.

“We understand that there is a balance in terms of the trust that people have in the platform but also the
kind of privacy that they want. I suppose our main way of dealing with that is transparency control, to
make it very clear what a consumer’s relationship with Google is in terms of the different types of
products they are using and give them the control to change that if they’re not happy with it. If you look at
tools like My Activity or My Account, which have actually been around for quite a long time, before
GDPR, you can actually see the types of information we’re gathering, you can delete, you can change,
you can say what you want, what you don’t want, and I suppose then it’s up to the individual to make
those choices.”

She also said that there are important advantages to the internet giant using information to provide a more
tailored service. “In some ways people like personalisation, if you ask people do they like personalised
services if you search for something or if you’re looking at maps and things like that you want a result
that is highly relevant to you. People do enjoy that convenience and that’s why we like to look at
transparency control so they can make those choices themselves – as it is with location tracking.”

Ms Meehan accepted people do need to be given very clear information about how their information is
used. “Yeah, I think it’s fair, we need to make sure that people are educated and know the settings. If you
go to look for the information, the information is there but obviously we are committed to making sure
our users understand how to use the products.”

She claimed the company’s core values are still fit for purpose but said, with the company having grown
dramatically in a relatively short space of time, constant efforts must be made to ensure they are lived up
to. “As you get bigger and bigger it gets more complex to make those values something you are living on
a day-to-day basis. If you look at the seven platforms we have, with over a billion users, it’s a harder job
but one we are committed to. I don’t think its necessarily a change in ethos or values, it’s just that we
have to work harder, take some of it on the chin, when we’ve made the mistake, say we could have done
better there and move on. And make sure we continue to try to improve.”


Owen Ryan

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