The head of Google’s search spam fighting team, Matt Cutts, is in Washington DC this week, doing an “educational tour” to explain to US Federal Trade Commission members and congressional staffers that his company’s search results don’t require government regulation.
The Washington Post covers his visit, including a presentation today at Google’s Washington DC offices, where Cutts treated attendees to a 89 page slide presentation called “Search Integrity.” We’re working to get a copy of this.
Cutts explained the same thing that Google has told the search marketing community for ages. Google’s results are determined by an algorithm and not tweaked to get particular sites ranking well. Google steps in only to deal with spam, security threats or due to legal action. The Post quotes him as saying:
“The only reasons I know of to go in and change [search rankings] manually is for security, a court order or spam,” Cutts said. “It is impossible to pay for a better ranking.”
As Google’s market dominance has grown, it has come under fire in some quarters that it needs to be regulated, especially due to accusations that it is altering its results to its own favor.
Today, news came out that the European Union, as part of its anti-trust investigation of Google, is circulating a survey to see if Google has ever suggested that buying ads would boost someone’s natural results. Europeans Go “Fishing” For Bad Google Behavior In Anti-Trust Inquiry from us earlier today has more on that.
I’ve covered Google since the company first began. I have never, ever, seen that type of allegation hold up. It would be incredibly easy to spot both in results and through industry chatter, if Google was giving better listings to advertisers. In contrast, years ago when Yahoo ran a “paid inclusion” program, there were allegations that being in that program caused you to rank better. Those allegations were far more convincing based on what could be seen in the results and advertiser chatter.
A survey we covered earlier this week found that most Americans are against government regulation of search engines. Survey: 77% Of Americans Oppose Search Engine Regulation has more on that.
Again, from my perspective, a key difficulty in regulating a search engine’s editorial results is that it’s akin to the government regulating journalism. Indeed, when the New York Times wrote an editorial suggesting that Google’s search results needed government oversight, I turned that argument on its head to highlight some of the absurdity and concerns: The New York Times Algorithm & Why It Needs Government Regulation.
Of course, search engines aren’t exempt to existing laws. They are already subject to FTC guidelines about labeling sponsored listings. In Europe, because of Google’s market dominance (it has a share of 90% or more in some countries, versus 60-70% in the US), it may indeed be required to ensure it’s providing access to competitors.
Still, some of the arguments that competitors have made in the EU, that Google is “favoring” its own search properties, still weak when you start to drill in and understand how exactly that interferes with Google’s role of being a search engine. Our posts below have more on this:
- The Incredible Stupidity Of Investigating Google For Acting Like A Search Engine
- Once Again: Should Google Be Allowed To Send Itself Traffic?