Google under fire for not playing fair

A new report claims that Google uses its dominance to stifle competition and generate more revenue for itself
  • (PC World (US online))
  • — 25 July, 2011 01:52

Google is being scrutinized by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for allegedly deceptive practices when it comes to online search and search advertising. A new report agrees--outlining ways that Google stifles competition, but is Google really a predatory monopoly, or just an American success story?

In a report titled "Googleopoly VIII* The FTC's Antitrust Investigation of How Google's Deceptive & Predatory Search Practices Harm Consumers," Cleland makes a variety of assertions that Google is intentionally gaming its own system to give its own ads and tools an unfair advantage, while making it impossible for rivals to compete.

Cleland claims, "Google's deceptive search practices manipulate search results to anti-competitively advantage some Google content and disadvantage some competitors' content, all while misrepresenting to the public that Google's search business is unbiased and never manipulates search results."

Cleland also alleges that it is in Google's financial best interest to exploit the privacy and personal information of users, and that Google's search results are based on subjective judgments of human website raters, and executive decisions aimed at ensuring that Google content gets ranked first.

A Google spokesperson responds by declaring Cleland's report "absurd," adding, "Our search results are designed to answer people's questions, and that's the only consideration -- not political viewpoints, not advertising dollars."

The Google spokesperson also explains, "Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote in their 2004 Founders Letter that Google's results "are unbiased and objective, and we do not accept payment for them or for inclusion or more frequent updating." Of course, the goal of search results is to rank the most relevant results above the less relevant results, and since our results are driven by user feedback, they are a type of mathematically-derived opinion."

Scott Cleland's objectivity has been questioned in the past. Some claim his analysis is just propaganda paid for by companies like Microsoft and AT&T to promote an anti-Google agenda. With Google already being investigated by the FTC, the timing of this report seems suspect, and the fact that Cleland's domain is 'googleopoly.net' indicates some measure of anti-Google bias from the start.

I am reluctant to suggest that Cleland is paid by Microsoft -- or any other entity, though. I know that I am frequently accused of being bought by Apple, or Microsoft, or Google, or Facebook depending on the article, and I know those accusations are ludicrous. The fact that Cleland's opinion might differ from mine doesn't mean his opinion was paid for.

The stats and figures used in Cleland's report do not appear to be in question. However, the filter through which they are viewed can vastly change the perspective. The data may be accurate, but the spin put on the data may be misleading.

I don't agree with Cleland. Google does have a dominant role online, but I don't believe that Google is intentionally acting in a deceptive or predatory manner to achieve that dominance. Google has an established history of designing online tools and services that work better, and are more popular than rival tools and services.

Granted, Google is not being completely altruistic. There is certainly self-interest involved. Google has a vested interest in making the online experience as smooth and efficient as possible because the more time users spend online -- preferably using Google tools -- the more ads they will see, and perhaps click on. That's just good business.

It is possible that Google is a victim of its own success, though. There is a self-feeding circle where the success of Google tools causes them to jump to the top of Google search results, which drives the success of Google tools -- and that circle feeds the revenue stream which creates its own circle of investing that revenue back into making more and better tools.

Google is winning at capitalism. That may, in fact, make it a monopoly, but it doesn't necessarily mean there was any intent. The fact is, if you are really good at capitalism, you eventually crush the competition and wind up with a monopoly whether you like it or not.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
Topics: search, Federal Trade Commission, Google, legal issues, internet, search engines
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