Google denies it stifled criticism of Indian billionaire

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Google has been accused of stifling an Indian news website that criticised billionaire businessman Mukesh Ambani after the search engine invested in his company.

Janta Ka Reporter has alleged it was punished by the search company after writing a series of stories about the tycoon, who is one of the richest men in Asia and owns British assets including the Stoke Park country club. 

Janta Ka said that the stories were a “big hit on Google”, but were wiped off key parts of the Silicon Valley titan’s website following a $4.5bn (£3.3bn) investment which it made in Mr Ambani’s companies.

The news publisher said its articles were placed lower down Google’s search rankings as well.

Google said it made changes to Janta Ka’s rankings because there were “unnatural” links on its website that were inserted onto the page to artificially inflate the site’s position in search results.

But the publisher said its rankings were not restored even after it fixed the problem on its website. It asked Google to reconsider but did not receive a response.

In a statement released on Twitter, Janta Ka Reporter said: “We resubmitted our reconsideration requests at least a dozen times.

“More than 400 days have passed since we first submitted our reconsideration request, but Google has looked the other way even though they are expected to respond within 15 days.

“Some of our Google contacts describe the treatment meted out to our website as ‘bizarre’ and ‘extraordinary’. It’s worth mentioning that in February 2020, we face intense pressure from Reliance’s PR team, wanting certain stories on Ambani’s children to be taken down.”

Danny Sullivan, the search liaison for Google, responded to the publisher’s allegations on Twitter.

“This manual action was not due to your journalism. It was solely for unnatural links,” he said.

“It was issued in mid-December 2020, not in November, and as explained to you through Search Console, had no impact on your ranking.”

Google announced in July 2020 that it would buy a 7.7pc stake in telecoms Reliance Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of India’s most valuable company, Reliance Industries, which is controlled by Mr Ambani.

Reliance Jio Platforms is also backed by a $5.7bn investment from Facebook. Google’s investment valued Reliance Jio Platforms at $58bn.

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