Who Cares

Apparently Google is getting accused of skewing its search results to favor its own products.   To which I say, so freaking what?   When did Google suddenly become a common carrier?  The implication is that by their very success (evidenced by a high market share) they have imposed on themselves more onerous rules than others operate under.  When I stay in the Marriott, and I ask the concierge about local dining options, don't I expect him or her to list the hotel's restaurant options first?

I suppose consumers might have a mild beef if Google is misrepresenting its service, but for gods sakes its free -- if you are suspicious of the results, there are like a zillion competitors.

This complaint is basically coming from businesses.  I know from past experience that seeing one's page rank drop with one of the regular Google algorithm tweaks is frustrating, but companies that through good SEO have climbed to the top of the search rankings are not owed anything, and in particular they are not owed that search ranking that they got for free.  In fact, these are businesses that are basically free riders on Google whining about Google's actions.  If they want to complain Google is not abiding by its terms of service on its paid listings, fine.  That is potentially a legitimate complaint.  But can't we agree that, as a foundation principle, government consumer protection action is never required for a free service somehow falling short of expectations?


  1. AtlantaDude:

    Mixed feelings about this one. It comes down to the definition of a monopoly. In the mid 20th century, AT&T was surely considered a monopoly. Did that prevent anyone from starting a competing phone service? No, but the network effect of everyone already being on the AT&T system made it unlikely that a competing system would gain traction. Therefore AT&T had a monopoly.

    I think an argument can be made that Google is in a similar position. Everyone uses it, so everyone advertises on it, so everyone uses it. The network effects make it unlikely that a competitor is going to gain much traction. Therefore, as an advertiser for many types of businesses, you have little choice but to use Google. If they then change the rules on you, you have little recourse. Yes, there is Bing, but that basically eliminates 85% of your addressable market.

    Theoretically, Google's promotion of its own products could lead users to choose a different search engine, but that is not a likely outcome.

    So, what you have is a defacto monopoly, regardless of the arguably inadvertent path of obtaining that monopoly, and the mostly theoretical arguments that it isn't a monopoly. Nevertheless, my feelings are mixed because I can't imagine a government / legal remedy that would actually make the world better.

  2. eddie:

    The engadget article you've linked to is useless. Here's the WSJ article from last Sunday that's the actual source, which for some reason engadget didn't bother linking to.

    Your summary of the issue is wrong. Google isn't getting accused of skewing its search results, which I as a Google user would consider a grave breach of the trust I place in Google to provide unbiased search results.

    Instead, Google is adding links within its search results to other Google services that have more information about the individual search results. Sort of like how if you search for "national monuments", in addition to getting a page of links to websites that have something to do with national monuments, you'll also get links to images of national monuments, maps of national monuments, and news stories about national monuments. Well, now when you do a search that returns local businesses (like "pizza 90120"), not only will you get a ranked list of web pages that match your search, next to each link to those web pages will also be a link to a Google Places page.

    So nobody's businesses are getting dropped down in the Google rankings... except for businesses like Yelp and CitySearch, whose only purpose was to make pages about other people's businesses. And whose reason for existence is about to completely disappear, now that Google is going to start doing what they do, only better.