Google To EU: We’re Always Open To Algorithm Suggestions

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)

Related entries:

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Critics | Google: Outside US | Legal: General | Legal: Regulation | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • steveplunkett

    smartest thing they can do actually…

    EU: We don’t like this. Can You change it?
    Google Explanation: (reason why it’s a stupid idea)
    EU: that makes sense can we change this…..
    Google Explanation: (reason why it’s a stupid idea)

    otherwise its…. EU sues Google over Anti-Trust issues… instead of attys.. they get Google to explain.

  • Miguel Ferreyra

    Sometimes fools out of their meetings, not this time, went to Washington to accuse Google but so bad is going to Microsoft!!, I wonder. Because even crossed the Atlantic to sow panic in Europe with two companies owned by Microsoft, are just the companies that regulate the travel packages.
    Why not leave other countries to seek better results.

  • Lalit Kumar

    Why Google Hate brigade is growing

    Thats why I love open source, now you peek into every activity of users through toolbars, analytics, pagespeed and tons of your so called free tools. Record them …process them and then show results. But when it comes to getting yourself scrutinized democratically, you claim to have IP issue.
    If this is not reversal of “Do No Evil” then what it is ?.
    Google benefits alot in developing various tools with inputs from open source be it firefox affiliation or google apps market place or android or google codex development. It utilizes its learnings with best in the industry.
    But when it comes to sharing info that too when it is crossing limits in fetcing info from public at large it shies away.

    Google should Stop preselecting web history for laymen when they register for your mail account . There are other things too that it does with no to so avid internet users to trace their behavior. If you benefit from opensource then you should reciprocate in the same manner coming in open. Tweaking of algo is just an eyewash thats for sure. They have become smart businessmen.

    {forgot my old account…had to re-register…commenting after ages here…due to very busy schedule :( }

    Lalit Kumar
    Ten years in online marketing

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