Google has reportedly moved to tighten control over its scientists’ papers.

Alphabet Inc’s Google has launched a “sensitive topics” review, which asks researchers to consult with legal, policy and public relations teams before pursuing certain topics. 

It says there is a lot of sensitivity around face and sentiment analysis, as well as categorisations of race, gender or political affiliation.

One of the “sensitive topics” is studying Google services for biases. 

Other topics include the oil industry, China, Iran, Israel, COVID-19, home security, insurance, location data, religion, self-driving vehicles, telecoms and systems that recommend or personalise web content.

Reports say that in at least three cases, Google has told its authors to refrain from casting the company’s technology in a negative light.

It appears that the “sensitive topics” process will add a new round of scrutiny to Google’s standard review of papers, allowing it to find any disclosing of trade secrets.

Google researchers have told reporters that they were told to “take great care to strike a positive tone”, in their research.

Senior scientist Margaret Mitchell says that she and others believe Google is interfering with crucial studies of potentially harmful technology.

“If we are researching the appropriate thing given our expertise, and we are not permitted to publish that on grounds that are not in line with high-quality peer review, then we’re getting into a serious problem of censorship,” Dr Mitchell said.

In one case, Google reportedly fired a researcher after she questioned an order not to publish research that found speech-mimicking AI could disadvantage marginalised populations. The company was allegedly upset that the paper did not mention efforts underway to address the harms.