Even If Google Could Improve Its Recommendations, Is It The Government's Job To Tell It To Do So?

from the seems-troubling dept

There were reports a few weeks ago that the European Commission has reopened its antitrust investigation into Google. The main issue is how Google promotes certain (usually internal) results in so-called “answer boxes” in a way that may hurt other sites. We’ve been skeptical of the idea of European bureaucrats deciding what Google’s search results should look like, but earlier this year, it appeared that a settlement had been reached in which Google would point to competitors’ results in some cases.

Against this backdrop, a few organizations, led by Yelp and TripAdvisor have created a somewhat fascinating site and tool called Focus On The User — a play on Google’s own core philosophy of “focus on the user and all else will follow.” The site makes a very compelling argument that when Google is returning opinions (i.e., ratings) rather than factual answers, that it could do a much better job than just pointing to results from Google+. That is, if you do a search on “best restaurants in San Francisco” Google will show you results as rated by Google+ user reviews.

The Focus on the User site shows that rather than just relying on Google’s own data, users would benefit greatly if Google used its own search algorithm to pull in results from reviews elsewhere. In short, where you might see a box up top with seven to ten reviews (all linking to Google pages), Yelp and TripAdvisor are arguing that if you just used Google’s “organic” search algorithm to find the most relevant review pages, consumers get a much better experience. And they have a fair amount of data to back that up, showing a greater number of clicks in such a box (which you can test yourself via the site).

As noted above, the results are compelling. Using Google’s own algorithm to rank all possible reviews seems like a pretty smart way of doing things, and likely to give better results than just using Google’s (much more limited) database of reviews. But here’s the thing: while I completely agree that this is how Google should offer up reviews in response to “opinion” type questions, I still am troubled by the idea that this should be dictated by government bureaucrats. Frankly, I’m kind of surprised this isn’t the way Google operates, and it’s a bit disappointing that the company doesn’t just jump on this as a solution voluntarily, rather than dragging it out and having the bureaucrats force it upon them.

So while the site is fascinating, and the case is compelling, it still has this problem of getting into a very touchy territory where we’re expecting government’s to design the results of search engines. It seems like Yelp, TripAdvisor and others can make the case to Google and the public directly that this is a better way to do things, rather than having the government try to order Google to use it.

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Companies: google, tripadvisor, yelp

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Comments on “Even If Google Could Improve Its Recommendations, Is It The Government's Job To Tell It To Do So?”

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John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Or just not use it at all. While I did have a G+ account because a particular piece of software I used required it, I eventually decided that the software wasn’t worth satisfying the requirement and so I ditched it all, including the G+ account.

Nonetheless, Google’s efforts to push everyone into G+ was so nasty that I’ll probably never forgive them for it (much like I’ll never forgive Microsoft for forcing that Metro nonsense onto desktop users).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They did this sort of thing for quite a while with Twitter to have access to all public tweets. Then the contract ran out and Twitter refused to continue sharing the data. When Google lost access to the broad spectrum of data they decided it was time to build their own service so they could control the access. I bet if Yelp signed a contract with Google to provide perpetual access to the data they would get better access and ranking.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: And the NY Times site should serve up stories from the Post?

It’s more along the lines of ‘Half the companies want Google to steer traffic their way, and the other half want Google to pay for steering traffic their way.’ They all want the increased traffic, some of them just want Google to pay for the ‘privilege’ of sending it to them.

Anonymous Coward says:

The EU needs to be sued by its constituents for fucking with the free market. You notice it’s only competitors who are bitching about Google results. If the users don’t find what they’re looking for, they look elsewhere and Google loses market share. Google should create a special EU mandate box on their search results pages that indicate what officious governments think should be on the page and the users should be able to permanently block it or opt out, maybe with a tally that gets sent to the EU stating, “x number of users say don’t fuck with my search results.”

Adam Bjornholm says:

It's always google's fault

There has to be someway google can keep shoving g+ onto their users and give them productive search results, maybe a sidebar dedicated to g+ reviews along with the actual helpful results?

On a google related note:

So, google is the internet now? When will hollywood start to understand technology?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Random engines that no one uses. They’re either inferior or rebranded in that they simply scrape or use Google for their results.

‘Other alternatives are crap’ does not a monopoly make. ‘No other alternatives exist‘ is what defines a monopoly, something which is clearly not true with regards to Google’s ‘search monopoly’.

Personally I don’t even use Google anymore, because they’ve folded so many times and allowed outside sources to dictate what they may, and may not show in their results. Once they started taking orders from ‘entertainment’ industries, governments, and various other groups as to what they were allowed to return as search results, they became useless as a search engine, as they’re returning results based not upon the best match-up, but upon what a third party wants you to see.

I won’t even bother to humor the second half, other than a simple [CITATION NEEDED].

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

‘Other alternatives are crap’ does not a monopoly make. ‘No other alternatives exist’ is what defines a monopoly, something which is clearly not true with regards to Google’s ‘search monopoly’.

Being a little literal, aren’t you? Microsoft had competitors but was still a monopoly: “Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issued his findings of fact on November 5, 1999, which stated that Microsoft’s dominance of the x86-based personal computer operating systems market constituted a monopoly, and that Microsoft had taken actions to crush threats to that monopoly, including Apple, Java, Netscape, Lotus Notes, RealNetworks, Linux, and others.” Windows was not literally the only x86-based PC operating system but it was still a monopoly.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Here’s the important difference there:

…which stated that Microsoft’s dominance of the x86-based personal computer operating systems market constituted a monopoly, and that Microsoft had taken actions to crush threats to that monopoly

There’s also the minor difference that without an OS a computer doesn’t work, but without a particular search engine(because again, there are many non-Google alternatives) you can still get by just fine.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Personally I use DuckDuckGo if I want a general search, but if looking up factual stuff, I search Wikipedia directly. There is a Firefox add on, Add search Engine which allow any search engine to be added to the search engine list, so switching engines is trivial, with no need to bookmark the sites. This is useful for specialized searches, like AllDataSheet.com and the Internet Archive etc. This generally gives better searching for what I want to look up.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“They have a monopoly because their “competitors” have no chance of actually competing with them.”

I have no idea what you’re talking about. The competitors do actually compete with google, or they wouldn’t exist. It doesn’t matter how popular they are for the sake of this discussion. The only thing that counts is that they exist and function, and they do. People who have a problem with Google can easily stop using Google for searches. There are plenty of alternatives, which means that Google doesn’t have a monopoly.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we grant that Google does have an effective monopoly, I still say “so what”. Google is not abusing any such monopoly position, and in the US, being a monopoly is just fine a long as you aren’t abusing your monopoly status.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

By abusing a monopoly position, I mean the legal standard for what constitutes this. Essentially, it means leveraging the monopoly position to unfairly disadavantage competing products. This is admittedly a hazy standard, which is why it always requires a judge to make the determination.

“They’re clearly using their search dominance to push their social network as revealed by this very article.”

Simply using your platform to push your other products is not abusing a monopoly position. If they were to game the search engine so that competing products never appeared in results of searches for social networks, that would be abusing the monopoly position.

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