Google Search Practices Questioned

Competition is only a click away.  This is the essence of Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s testimony in front of a United States Senate committee in September.  Google is in the hot seat yet again  for allegedly hindering competition in the search market field. Already being investigated by the EU, as well as Texas (and potentially other states in the future), Google faces increasingly contentious questioning of its search practices.

Google is considered by many to be a monopoly.  Yelp CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman, alleges that Schmidt’s search giant favored its own Places service in search results over Yelp’s content.  In addition, Stoppelman contends that Google unfairly put its review content in Places.  In response, Google has changed policies and no longer displays Yelp’s content in Places.  This hasn’t been enough to stifle anti-competition charges.

But does Google favor its own products, such as Maps or Places?  In a way, yes.  If, for instance, a searcher asks how far it is from London to Japan, Google’s algorithm may be augmented with other links in order to provide a direct answer.  Schmidt says, “Sometimes the best, most useful answer to a query is one of the traditional 10 blue links.  But sometimes it’s a news article, sports score, stock quote, flight times, shopping results, or a map – any of which we may place above or among the other results from across the web.  Every search engine has shifted towards providing more answers directly in the search results – because it’s what consumers want.”

This explanation is not appeasing detractors, however, who say that Google needs to be more transparent in how it conducts universal searches and how it arrives at its results.  It is conjectured that Google may end up labeling the source of results:  so, just as you would see “sponsored results,” you might see “house” results or internal results.  Stoppleman does not think this is enough; he believes that Google should separate its properties from algorithmic search links.

Interestingly, not all of Google’s competition is in favor of Google being punished.  Rich Skrenta, Blekko’s CEO, writes, “Innovation and competition are far more powerful instruments to battle companies that have grown powerful and influential.”  Blekko has never played Google’s game, and it is a small, but thriving, provider of search results.

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