MEXICO CITY -- When Wikileaks founder Julian Assange told an open government conference Thursday that "Google was now Hillary's secret weapon," he provided ample fertilizer for a year's worth of conspiracy theories in this overheated election season.
Assange was referring to The Groundwork, a stealthy startup funded by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt that's providing consulting services to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's campaign. According to Quartz, The Groundwork is building digital infrastructure like the Obama campaign did in 2012, laying "the groundwork' for personalized, data-driven electioneering in 2016.
While Schmidt has said that he would not work in a Clinton administration, he does support her presidential campaign. Google also has a number of close ties to the Obama administration, with a number of former employees serving in top positions, from U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith to the head of the U.S. Patent Office, Michelle Lee. The chief technology officer of Clinton's campaign, Stephanie Hannon, was also hired from Google.
Assange isn't the first person to raise concerns about a search algorithm stealing the presidency. Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain has explored how Google or Facebook could influence an election by customizing search results or news, swinging undecided voters to one side or another.
To date, however, there's no evidence that any engineers or executives currently working for Google or Alphabet, Google's parent company, are doing anything to support Clinton's campaign.