The concept of “search neutrality” that has recently emerged is an attractive idea to many, appealing to notions of even-handedness and fair play. However it completely breaks down when one seriously considers its implications in practice. We’ve written a great deal about the challenges and problems lurking behind “search neutrality.”
Now in an academic article, Some Skepticism About Search Neutrality, NYU associate law professor James Grimmelmann closely examines and deconstructs the arguments behind the idea of search neutrality:
- Equality: Search engines shouldn’t differentiate at all among websites.
- Objectivity: There are correct search results and incorrect ones, so search engines should return only the correct ones.
- Bias: Search engines should not distort the information landscape.
- Traffic: Websites that depend on a flow of visitors shouldn’t be cut off by search engines.
- Relevance: Search engines should maximize users’ satisfaction with search results.
- Self-interest: Search engines shouldn’t trade on their own account.
- Transparency: Search engines should disclose the algorithms they use to rank web pages.
- Manipulation: Search engines should rank sites only according to general rules, rather than promoting and demoting sites on an individual basis.
Though not unsympathetic to the objectives behind “search neutrality,” Grimmelmann argues that search is not like other media and that it must inherently “discriminate” among results to best serve user needs. His conclusion, like ours, is that “search neutrality” is unworkable and even undesirable in practice.
Cut to Europe: it’s unlikely that the current European antitrust investigation against Google will conclude without at least some negative findings for Mountain View. The broad concern playing out in the context of the specific complaints in the action is that Google is simply too powerful and has too much control over online user behavior and thus the fate of websites and online businesses.
If the Europeans do in fact make adverse findings against Google it’s not clear what any remedy would be. With billions in the bank fines against Google would be almost meaningless and regulating the search results page itself — what results may appear in what places and in what order — is highly problematic to say the least.
- European Google Antitrust Questionnaire Revealed
- Europeans Go “Fishing” For Bad Google Behavior In Anti-Trust Inquiry
- Once Again: Should Google Be Allowed To Send Itself Traffic?
- The Incredible Stupidity Of Investigating Google For Acting Like A Search Engine
- The New York Times Algorithm & Why It Needs Government Regulation
- Companies Ask Courts, Regulators To Restrain Google To Compensate For Own Competitive Failures
- Do Search Engines (Google) “Harm Minority Owned Businesses”?