Those who are familiar with Google’s history know that their self-proclaimed prime directive is, “Don’t be Evil.” But in the best Clintonian tradition, it turns out that their definition of “evil” is open to interpretation.
According to a newly discovered 160-page report, authored by the Federal Trade Commission in 2012, Google has been systematically gaming it’s search results to—now hold on to your hats—refer consumers to their own services to the detriment of their competitors.
Here’s the Wall Street Journal:
In a lengthy investigation, staffers in the FTC’s bureau of competition found evidence that Google boosted its own services for shopping, travel and local businesses by altering its ranking criteria and “scraping” content from other sites. It also deliberately demoted rivals.
The reaction among the public was swift. “I’m totally blown away by this type of deceit coming from Google,” said a blind man without a cane, currently living under a rock in a cave.
But to be fair, opinions were mixed, and some brave individuals dared to challenge the government’s claims, including Kent Walker, Google’s General Counsel, who said Thursday afternoon, probably in high-pitched, whiny voice;
“After an exhaustive 19-month review, covering nine million pages of documents and many hours of testimony, the FTC staff and all five FTC Commissioners agreed that there was no need to take action on how we rank and display search results. We regularly change our search algorithms and make over 500 changes a year to help our users get the information they want,” We created search for users, not websites—and that focus has driven our improvements over the last decade.”
God bless the lawyers!
Those of us who write for a living know that Google is particularly sensitive to the use of copied content, going so far as to penalize sites that plagiarize others and even warning bloggers—with an implied threat of adverse search rankings–against using too much quoted material. But apparently those rules don’t apply the ‘Big G” itself.
Again from the Journal:
To bolster its own listings, Google sometimes copied, or “scraped,” information from rival sites. According to the FTC report, Google copied Amazon’s rankings of how well products were selling, then used that information to rank its results for product searches. Amazon declined to comment.
The report also contained a staff recommendation that the FTC bring suit against Google for numerous anti-trust issues, potentially creating one of their highest profile cases since suing Microsoft in the 90’s.
Ultimately though, the FTC’s commissioners took the highly unusual action of contradicting their own staff’s recommendation and voted unanimously in 2013 to end the investigation against Google after the company agreed to voluntarily change some of its practices.
Experts say, the fact that Google was the second largest donor to President Obama’s re-election campaign and that its top executives are regular visitors to the White House, had no bearing on the FTC’s decision, though none of them could say it with a straight face.
I, for one, have always assumed that Google, despite its desire to convince us of its deep-seated corporate altruism, knowingly skews search results to their benefit. I just figured it was the price of admission.
The revelations in this report, which was only released in error due to a Freedom of Information Act request, will hopefully put to rest the naïve view that corporate policies fall on either side of the political landscape or public interest. As I have always said, corporations are neither good or bad, nor red or blue. The only color that matters to them is green.
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