Company says none of proposed changes to search results were ever implemented

The Google campus in Mountain View, Calif., in May 2017. Months earlier, employees exchanged emails with ideas on how to harness the company’s vast influence on the internet in response to the Trump administration’s travel ban.

WASHINGTON—Days after the Trump administration instituted a controversial travel ban in January 2017, Google employees discussed ways they might be able to tweak the company’s search-related functions to show users how to contribute to pro-immigration organizations and contact lawmakers and government agencies, according to internal company emails.

The email traffic, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, shows that employees proposed ways to “leverage” search functions and take steps to counter what they considered to be “islamophobic, algorithmically biased results from search terms ‘Islam’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Iran’, etc.” and “prejudiced, algorithmically biased search results from search terms ‘Mexico’, ‘Hispanic’, ‘Latino’, etc.”

The email chain, while sprinkled with cautionary notes about engaging in political activity, suggests employees considered ways to harness the company’s vast influence on the internet in response to the travel ban. Google said none of the ideas discussed were implemented.

“These emails were just a brainstorm of ideas, none of which were ever implemented,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement. “Google has never manipulated its search results or modified any of its products to promote a particular political ideology—not in the current campaign season, not during the 2016 election, and not in the aftermath of President Trump’s executive order on immigration. Our processes and policies would not have allowed for any manipulation of search results to promote political ideologies.”

In one of the emails a worker wrote: “I know this would require a full on sprint to make happen, but I think this is the sort of super timely and imperative information that we need as we know that this country and Google, would not exist without immigration.”

The disclosure is certain to fuel complaints by many Republicans that Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., stifles conservative viewpoints online and promotes a liberal worldview. Those longstanding concerns have received more attention recently from some GOP congressional leaders, as well as President Trump himself, in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections.

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