Yes, Google might consider changing its ranking algorithm in response to an EU anti-trust investigation. However, that would fit in with Google’s general practice of changing its algorithm on a regular basis in response to anything the company thinks will improve its results.
According to the UK-based Telegraph, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said yesterday that “Google could be willing to change some of its algorithm methodology in search,” to avoid potential fines or other penalties that might be coming as part of the European Commission’s antitrust investigation against Google now in progress.
The investigation was formally undertaken last year as a result of the complaints of multiple companies and Google competitors. The European Commission is looking into a number of issues and questions, including the self-referral of traffic to Google’s other properties. We’ve written extensively about these questions in the past (see related entries below).
This Schmidt statement opens a huge “can of worms” both for Google and European regulators. What might the changes be and would regulators be involved in confirming them? Google certainly doesn’t want to open the door to ongoing monitoring of its search results or algorithm by regulators. But how might their sufficiency be determined otherwise?
Would there be different search algorithms in Europe vs. the US?
Has Schmidt “gone rogue” or is this Google’s official position? This is a huge concession potentially and we’re trying to speak to Google directly about it.
Postscript From Danny Sullivan: I’ve had a chance to follow up with a spokesperson from Google about the article. He highlighted the fact that Schmidt himself isn’t quoted directly on making any algorithm change. Instead, that’s the Telegraph reporter’s paraphrase of that portion of the discussion.
So, I asked, “Would Google consider changing its algorithm in response to the EU investigation?” I was told that Google already changes its algorithm constantly, for a variety of reasons, as the company decides makes sense.
A good example was last year when Google made a change so that merchants with bad reviews would be less likely to rank well. So potentially, Google might make an algorithm change in response to EU concerns, just as it makes changes in response to many concerns — but that ultimately, it would have to be because the company agreed that making a change was best for its users.
Google also stressed that to date, it has no feedback from the EU about any particular recommendations, to its algorithm or businesses practices in general. The investigation is still on-going and may take months to complete. I always also given Google’s previous statement on the investigation:
Since we started Google we have worked hard to do the right thing by our users and our industry–ensuring that ads are always clearly marked, making it easy for users to take their data with them when they switch services and investing heavily in open source projects. But there’s always going to be room for improvement, and so we’ll be working with the Commission to address any concerns.
I’ve updated our story with a new opening paragraph added above the original opening, to provide this further perspective. I’ve also changed the headline from “Google To EU: We’ll Consider Changing The Algorithm” to “Google To EU: We’re Always Open To Algorithm Suggestions,” to better reflect what Schmidt seems to have been saying.
(photo by jolieodell via Creative Commons)
- European Google Antitrust Questionnaire Revealed
- Google Says “Ciao” To Antitrust Claim In Italy
- Europeans Go “Fishing” For Bad Google Behavior In Anti-Trust Inquiry
- Spanish Want Google To Police Libel On The Internet
- Italy To Regulate YouTube & Other Video Sites Like TV Stations
- German Govt. Says Google Analytics Now Verboten
- Survey: 77% Of Americans Oppose Search Engine Regulation
- Once Again: Should Google Be Allowed To Send Itself Traffic?
- Companies Ask Courts, Regulators To Restrain Google To Compensate For Own Competitive Failures