Is Google Evil? Part II: Search Neutrality

March 5, 2010 / 6:06 pm • By Dr. Melissa Clouthier

Google skates the edge. Persistently, relentlessly invading our lives. We want Google. We need Google.

Then, they go and do something like Buzz and we feel violated. They cow-tow to the Chinese government and allow censorship to the Chinese people. Or strangely, no matter how you enter “Islam” into Google, you won’t get negative word associations.

Recently, Financial Times asked if Google was an evil monopoly (for what it’s worth, I think the FT.com website forcing me to look at their stupid front page, instead of the exact article I want is evil).

Google has also been dinged for how they choose their news stories.

Now, come questions about their search metrics. While people worry about Net neutrality–the ability of internet providers to block, turn off or shut down the connection to the internet–a bigger concern is the search engines to cut off connectivity within the internet.

Lack of search neutrality is a more insidious and potentially pernicious problem…a person doesn’t know what he’s missing. This is the chief problem with newspapers and TV news, alike. It’s not lying, per se. It’s shading and eliminating important news and facts. Google also has the potential to do this same sort of thing.

Google can also be manipulated and if the aims match their own, politically, little is done to stop it.

Here’s the problem:

He diagnoses the problem as follows:

given the emphasis on secrecy in the search engine business model, no one can verify that such rankings have not been manipulated or that subtler biases in favor of search engines’ partners are not being worked into the search algorithm…

If search engines are to be accountable at all, if their interest is to be balanced against those of the various other claimants involved in search-related disputes, and if social values are to be given any weight, some governmental
agent should be able to peer into the black box of search and determine whether or not illegitimate manipulation has occurred.

But what about editorial discretion? Why should Google be forced to change its PageRank algorithms any more than The New York Times should be forced to change how it decides which stories to run? Moreover, why should Google be forced to disclose how this process works? Assigning a government monitor to sit in on meetings of the Times‘ editorial board “to detect bias” would clearly impinge on their editorial discretion. Similarly, I don’t see why forcing a Yahoo!, Microsoft or any other search engine to disclose their equivalent processes for ranking search results should pass constitutional muster.

To me, the safe thing, is to assume that the rankings are manipulated. The alternative is taking the word of a company who won’t share their data…which is their choice.

Sure Google won this court case:

A federal judge this week granted Google’s motion to dismiss a suit that alleged the company manipulated search results in its powerful Web index.

U.S. District Court Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange on Tuesday denied a motion for a preliminary injunction brought by SearchKing, an Oklahoma City-based Web hosting and advertising network that claimed Google unfairly removed links to its site and those of its partners from the index, causing financial losses. The judge dismissed the case on the grounds that Google’s formula for calculating the popularity of a Web page, or “PageRank,” constitutes opinions protected by the First Amendment.

All that means is Google may or may not manipulate it…ala the New York Times.

For me, I’d make sure to search using all search engines. There is no question, though, that Google has the ability to ruin a business, if they desire.

Even more so than Net Neutrality, you’d think that computer users would worry about Search Neutrality. But Google serves leftist masters so the press doesn’t care so much. More than that, though, is that internet users [including this one] despise market interference.

A better browser will be invented and take Google out, if they’re evil enough. The problem, though, is that this is a tough kind of evil to nail down.

  • mj

    Google recently got a patent, #7,664,751, for blocking content based on the location of the user’s IP number. While such technology could be used to enforce copyright law, it certainly raised eyebrows of some who’ve had concerns about their prior relationship with the government of China.

    Google’s search engine (not a browser) clearly shines among the competitors. That some sources of information and opinion appear to be favored, and others seem to disappear is certainly a concern.

    They do seem to end up on the wrong side of certain important issues. See No Evil.

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