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Google search manipulation can swing votes in Indian elections

WASHINGTON: Altering Google search results can pose a real threat to democracy as it has a major impact on the voting preferences of undecided voters and could swing a close election, according to a new landmark study analysing the just concluded Lok Sabha polls in India.

The study conducted in India in recent weeks suggests that Google has the power to fix elections "without anyone being the wiser".

This is possible because of the power that search rankings have on people's opinions, researchers said.

Studies show that the higher the rank, the more people trust the result, which is why companies are spending billions now to push their products higher.

"So could highly-ranked search results that make Arvind Kejriwal look better than Narendra Modi drive votes to Kejriwal?" researchers set out to determine.

In research conducted last year in the US, researchers found that search rankings biased in favour of a candidate could push the preferences of undecided voters towards that candidate by 15 per cent or more.

Now, in a new study conducted in recent weeks with more than 2,000 undecided voters throughout India, the researchers have shown that votes in India can easily be pushed towards one candidate or another by about 12 per cent - double that amount in some demographic groups - enough to determine the outcomes of many close races.

"This is a very serious matter - a real threat to democracy," said Dr Robert Epstein, lead researcher in the study and Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioural Research and Technology in California.

"If two candidates were both trying to push their rankings higher, they would be competing, and that's fine. But if Google, which has a monopoly on search in India, were to favour one candidate, it could easily put that candidate in office by manipulating search rankings, and no one could counter what they were doing.

"Even if without human intervention the company's search algorithm favoured one candidate, thousands of votes would still be driven to that candidate," said Epstein.

In the new study, participants were randomly assigned to groups in which search rankings favoured either Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi, or Modi.

Real search rankings and web pages were used, and people were asked to research all the candidates just as they would on Google. The only difference between the groups was the order in which the search results were displayed.

The new study suggests that biased search rankings can be used to fix the outcome of races in India in which the winner is projected to win by a margin up to 2.9 per cent.

This can be done just by influencing undecided voters who use the internet - a small but important group of voters that is sure to grow in coming years, researchers said.

Worldwide, the researchers said, upwards of 25 per cent of national elections are won by margins under 3 per cent.

The study also shows that certain demographic groups are especially vulnerable.

The voting preferences of 19 per cent of women over 35 were shifted in the study, as were the voting preferences of 18 per cent of voters who were unemployed.

"Of particular concern is the fact that 99 per cent of the people in our study seemed to be unaware that the search rankings they saw were biased. That means Google has the power to manipulate elections without anyone suspecting they're doing so," said Epstein.

"To prevent undue influence, election-related search rankings need to be regulated and monitored, as well as subjected to equal-time rules," Epstein said. - PTI











Congress dismisses exit poll projections 

NEW DELHI: The Congress on Tuesday dismissed exit poll projections of a dismal performance by it, saying a sample survey of a few lakh people cannot predict Lok Sabha election results.

“In a country of 800 million voters how can few lakh sample size surveys predict the result? Let’s wait for 16th May (when votes will be counted),” Congress leader Digvijay Singh tweeted on Tuesday morning.

Party general secretary Shakeel Ahmed has also dismissed exit and opinion polls.

He has said that they were proved wrong in the 2004 and 2009 elections and the party would wait for the actual results on May 16, 2014.

The Congress did not participate in the exit poll programmes telecast by several news channels on Monday evening.

“Keeping with its tradition, Congress will not participate in exit poll programmes,” Shakeel Ahmed had said on Monday. - PTI










PM bids goodbye to personal staff

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today personally bid goodbye to his personal staff in his South Block office while thanking them for their assistance.

He met 110 personal staff members and expressed his gratitude towards them, sources said.

Singh, who became the Prime Minister in 2004, met them in the PMO where he was also greeted by 400 peripheral staff members who gave him a thunderous applause in the corridors of the South Block, they said.

The Prime Minister will hold his last Cabinet meeting on Saturday after which he will go and meet President Pranab Mukherjee.

After returning from his meeting with the President, Singh will address the nation, the sources said.

On the same day, Singh will host a high tea for the members of his Council of Ministers after which the President will hold a dinner for all of them.

The PMO is being refurbished, particularly the upholstery, to welcome a new Prime Minister. - PTI 











BJP welcomes Obama's statement on working closely 
with new government

NEW DELHI: BJP today welcomed the statement of US President Barack Obama that he was looking forward to work closely with the new government in India, saying all countries will cooperate with the new government in New Delhi.

"What Obama says shows in which direction the wind is blowing. All the democracies and all the countries in the world will definitely cooperate with the new government," party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said here.

In a statement, Obama said he is looking forward to the formation of a new government in India once the election results are announced and pledged to work closely with New Delhi.

"We look forward to the formation of a new government once election results are announced and to working closely with India's next administration to make the coming years equally transformative," Obama said.

Congratulating the people of India on the successful elections, the polling for which concluded yesterday, Obama said, "I congratulate the people of India on concluding their national elections. India has set an example for the world in holding the largest democratic election in history, a vibrant demonstration of our shared values of diversity and freedom". - PTI 











'Had PM taken stand, history would've seen him 
differently': Jaitley

NEW DELHI: History would have recorded Prime Minister Manmohan Singh differently if he had taken a stand against scams and frauds, senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said Tuesday.

"If he (Manmohan Singh) had stood up and cancelled the coal blocks allocation once the fraud was revealed or cancelled the 2G licenses himself rather than wait for the court to do it, I have no doubt that history would have recorded him very differently," Jaitley wrote in his blog.

The blog appeared a day after the 10-phased general elections across 28 states and seven union territories ended Monday. Exit polls indicate that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to surge ahead when votes get counted Friday and oust the Congress-led UPA that has been in power for the past decade.

Jaitley added that Singh's inability to speak up within his own party, may compel historians to take a different view of him.

"With an element of scholarship, he was always well read and well prepared on any subject. And yet, when he addressed the country, he never came out as a leader. The reason for not coming out as a leader was clear. He never wanted to rock the boat," he said.

Attacking Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Jaitley said that Singh was vested with limited powers and had to keep the party and its first family in good humour on all major decisions.

"Thus, when the reform process was blocked on account of decisions of the National Advisory Council or when (Congress vice president) Rahul Gandhi tore apart the papers of objectionable ordinance, the prime minister was perceived as a non-leader who had to accept everything without his opinion mattering significantly," he said.

Jaitley, however, praised Singh for being a good finance minister and said that his footprints during the 1991-96 period would be remembered.- IANS













Sensex hits new record high of 23,922 

MUMBAI: Riding on the exit polls forecast that shows a stable govt led by BJP coming to power at the Centre, the benchmark BSE Sensex hit yet another record high of 23,921.91 in opening trade on Tuesday on heavy fund inflows.

All the sectoral indices led by oil and gas, PSUs, power, banking, realty and capital goods sectors were trading in the positive zone with gains up to 2.21 per cent.

The 50-share NSE Nifty also breached the psychological 7,100 mark for the first time by surging 101.95 points, or 1.45 per cent, to trade at a new high of 7,116.20.

The 30-share Sensex rose by 370.91 points, or 1.57 per cent, to trade at an all-time high of 23,921.91, surpassing its previous intra-day record of 23,572.88 reached on Monday.

The gauge had rallied over 1,206 points in the past two sessions.

Brokers said sustained capital inflows by foreign funds at the domestic bourses and widespread buying by retail investors after exit polls showing the BJP-led NDA forming the government lifted the key indices to new highs.

Further, a firming trend in other Asian markets following overnight gains on the US bourses buoyed the trading sentiment here, they said.

Sectorally, the BSE oil and gas sector index gained the most, rising 2.21 per cent, followed by PSU index 2.16 per cent and capital goods by 1.98 per cent.

Among other Asian markets, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.78 per cent while Japan’s Nikkei gained 1.79 per cent in early trade on Tuesday.

The U.S. Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.68 per cent to close at record high in Monday’s trade. - PTI




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