Members of Brazil’s President Michel Temer’s administration met with Google representatives to discuss the viability of directing users’ queries to official content produced by the government.
A January 12 article on the website of O Globo, one of Brazil’s most widely read daily newspapers, alleges that Brazil’s government is seeking to work with Google to customize search results for Brazilian users, based on their location and possibly other characteristics.
According to the O Globo article, which did not name its sources, the government is hoping to tailor search results related to a controversial pension reform bill, which the Congress is scheduled to vote on in the near term. Google has made no public statements on the matter.
O Globo reports that members of President Michel Temer’s administration met Google representatives in early January to discuss the viability of directing users’ queries to official content produced by the government. According to the article:
It would work more or less like this: a rural worker who searches ‘pension reform’ would see content that explains that this category of worker won’t be affected by the current version of the bill.”
The highly unpopular pension reform bill is the boldest component of Temer’s austerity package, which is aimed at keeping the public deficit under control. Since late 2016, the government has been struggling to secure support for the bill in Congress, and has since proposed a more moderate version of the bill. The stakes are even higher now as lawmakers worry that approving such an unpopular bill will hurt their chances of re-election in October.
If Google were to agree to such a proposal, the company would undercut its own previous arguments about the service it provides. In numerous court challenges, including multiple cases in Brazil, Google’s lawyers have argued that the search engine is a “neutral intermediary,” a algorithmic system designed to show users “relevant” information, according to a set of (highly subjective) metrics intended to determine relevance.
The idea also raises significant questions about the reach of Brazil’s Marco Civil da Internet, or Civil Framework for the Internet. Passed in 2015, shortly before the impeachment process began for former President Dilma Rousseff, the law protects network neutrality by prohibiting “discrimination or degradation of traffic for commercial purposes while permitting it for emergency and public calamity situations.” It does not explicitly address content discrimination for political purposes.
This comes as battles over internet neutrality take place around the globe:
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Top Photo | A demonstrator carries a statue in the likeness of Brazil’s president Michel Temer during a protest against Brazil’s president Michel Temer at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 28, 2017. (AP/Leo Correa)