As India Goes After Google, A Simple Question: Do You Really Want Governments Deciding Search Results?

from the just-asking dept

Earlier this year, European antitrust authorities went after Google (hours after EU officials announced plans to harm American internet companies to “help” local internet companies). Google just last week responded to the initial claims, saying that “improving quality isn’t anti-competitive.” Of course, the more detailed response is still private, so we don’t know the full extent of what’s being discussed. And, now, it appears that India is going after Google based on similar charges, claiming that it somehow leverages its own position in rigging either search results or putting its own services ahead of competitors above the search results.

Based on the responses from 30 businesses spanning search, social networks, ecommerce, travel and content sites, the CCI director-general last week filed a report that accuses Google of abusing its dominant position to rig search outcomes, both the actual search result as well as sponsored links. This marks the first case globally where an antitrust body is formally raising such charges against Google.

It’s a bit surprising to see Facebook apparently take part in this effort, because it can’t be long until it’s receiving similar scrutiny around the globe for its position in the social networking space. The article is a bit confusing, but from it, there seems to be a mishmash of different accusations, some of which are more nutty than others. The key one — which is at the heart of the claims in the US and in Europe — is that for certain searchers, Google puts its own services first, before the “organic” search results. So, for example, if you do a search on something local, it would show you Google’s local information (built on top of Zagat’s info) rather than a competing rating service. Or, it may highlight Google Maps over some competitor.

At least one company, Flipkart, appears to claim that its own “organic” search results depend on how much the company spends on buying ads on the site. Companies make this claim all the time and there has never been the slightest bit of evidence to support those claims. If any such evidence comes out, then that would be a serious issue, and Google should have to answer for it. However, given how frequently it’s been shown to be baseless, it seems unlikely that Google is actually polluting its organic search results based on a company’s advertising plans (in fact, Google has made it pretty clear that the folks who handle the search algorithm have absolutely no insight into the advertising side of the business).

The claims about Google promoting its own services (maps, local, flights, finance, etc.) over competitors still seems like a weird one. Promoting those so-called “one box” results, is (as the company has claimed) providing more useful services. You can see why other companies may get upset about it, but is there any actual consumer harm? That seems a lot harder to find.

The only argument I’ve seen that makes any sense at all in all of these accusations is that Google could present better results in its onebox area if it made use of its own internal algorithm (which conceivably could determine that another company’s services rank better than Google’s). But as we’ve said in the past about that exact suggestion: even if Google should make that change, it is really the government’s job to determine what is “the best” way to present search results?

I have a lot of difficulty believing that bureaucrats in either Brussels or Mumbai are somehow going to have a better idea how to provide the best possible search results for consumers, than the folks at Google who spend all their time working on these issues. Instead, this seems like companies who are upset that they don’t rank well enough in Google complaining, because Google is big. If Google is actually shown to be doing something that actively harms consumers, that’s one thing. But all of these complaints still seem to rest on companies (not consumers) bitching that they don’t like how high they rank in Google. Well guess what? I don’t like how Techdirt ranks in Google either, but I don’t go running to the government to complain about it.

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Companies: facebook, flipkart, google

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Comments on “As India Goes After Google, A Simple Question: Do You Really Want Governments Deciding Search Results?”

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DannyB (profile) says:

What's wrong with governments deciding search results?

After all, look what a wonderful job government does at deciding everything else? What could go wrong?

Seeing how government works, Google could get a jump and allow lobbyists to directly pay Google for search results. Oh, but that would deprive poor, underpaid, downtrodden government officials of that money going into their pockets.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not just FIXED but absolutely essential: Do You Really Want Corporations Deciding Search Results? Solely? Without any regulation?

The way Masnick frames it is characteristic. Yet again tacitly implying that corporations can be trusted, don’t need to be regulated or watched. That’s not a safe alternative.

Oh, and just note what corporation is being defended! You don’t see that more than every day here.

To everyone besides corporatists like Mitt Romney and Masnick, BOTH governments AND corporations are entirely NOT TO BE TRUSTED AN INCH BEYOND NECESSARY FOR BENEFITTING THE PUBLIC. Neither governments nor corporations have ANY other reason for being, but are known hazards CERTAIN to become dangers if not limited.

Tired of slow page loads? You’re waiting on unnecessary javascripts! And tired of not seeing comments the fanboys have censored?

Get rid of both with the new Techdirt Lite! See Techdirt the way YOU want!

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not just FIXED but absolutely essential: Do You Really Want Corporations Deciding Search Results? Solely? Without any regulation?

Actually he had a good point – then he spoiled it by trying to claim some kind of relationship between Techdirt and Google.

Actually there is a problem with corporations determining search results when they reach the size of Google/Microsoft. At that point they start to use monopolist tactice to maintain their status. Before Google there was a reasonable market in search. Then Google arrived and took over (by doing a better job). AltaVista, Yahoo etc were more or less wiped out. Subsequent competition has come from Microsoft – who have spoiled their case by trying to leverage their own monopoly in other areas- and from other smaller players who so far have failed to make a real impression.

The truth is that free market competition works well when there are a number of relatively equal competitors but fails when one gets big enough to use its size as a weapon. In reality most companies spend a lot of effort trying to become what they often profess to hate – a monopolist.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Not just FIXED but absolutely essential: Do You Really Want Corporations Deciding Search Results? Solely? Without any regulation?

Free clue for the clue challenged.

Censorship is when a point of view is being suppressed. Having one is a prerequisite in order for it to be censored.

Ignorance, Lies, Name Calling, and Trolling do NOT qualify as a ‘point of view’.

Please do not try to elevate it to such.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Not just FIXED but absolutely essential: Do You Really Want Corporations Deciding Search Results? Solely? Without any regulation?

Oh, and just note what corporation is being defended!

Google is being defended because stupid governments are as fixated on Google, as if it were the only search engine, as much as TechDirt Trolls and Hollywood Dinosaurs are fixated on Google, as if it were the only search engine.

Does that clear anything up?

JMT says:

Re: Not just FIXED but absolutely essential: Do You Really Want Corporations Deciding Search Results? Solely? Without any regulation?

“Yet again tacitly implying that corporations can be trusted, don’t need to be regulated or watched.”

That’s just your hyperactive imagination; Mike did not suggest or imply that that corporations don’t need to be regulated or watched. And you know who watches them best? The consumers who are currently NOT complaining about Google being anti-competitive or over-dominant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Flipkart, appears to claim that its own “organic” search results depend on how much the company spends on buying ads on the site.

Lets see, with newspapers the size and placement of the advert depends on how much money the advertisers spends, as does which billboards they can get an advert on. With TV, it costs more to get adverts aired during prime time. Wherever you look, money determines who get the best exposure of their adverts.

Anonymous Coward says:

the problem is, it wont stop at governments deciding search results and isn’t designed to stop there. just like the plan the entertainment industries have employed over the years, taking a little bit more here, changing a little bit more there, governments are trying to get control of the internet because as it is, they dont know who does what on it, buys what, sells what, gets how much, tells, this, hears that and the last thing any government wants, is not knowing what the people it is supposed to be ruling doing ANYTHING that isn’t known! the entertainment industries have been parcel to what the governments are doing because in return for giving the industries new laws, new leeway, new punishments to use, they in return have given governments whatever information on whoever they have watched and listened on, removing all privacy and freedom of speech and freedom itself under the supposed search for ‘all the bastards who are thieving my movies and music?’

Anonymous Coward says:

inherent conflict of interest?

A key issue is that Google has worked itself into the position of being Kingmaker and obviously has the power of tipping the scales between competing businesses — particularly when one of those competing businesses is owned by Google and the other is not.

By using its immense leverage sparingly, Google is just playing it smart, being wise not to fall into the same hot water that Microsoft got itself into in the 1990s, when Microsoft was able to defeat numerous market-dominant software products by ruthlessly employing bundling strategies with its own competing products. Google seems to prefer the “boiling frog” strategy — which in the long term is probably much more effective.

No one wants government meddling, but the expected alternative is the evolution of an “ecosystem” of nominally independent companies that work together as one. We’ve already seen this take place in the merging of news and entertainment companies. For instance, having a controversial celebrity like Tom Cruise, while promoting a Viacom-funded movie, being given softball interviews -by normally hard-hitting journalists- on TV networks owned by Viacom, while shunning networks not owned (or otherwise controlled) by Viacom. (and even Bill Cosby would have been given the same cushy treatment if some movie studio had just invested hundreds of millions of dollars in him) This is the sort of thing that tends to happen whenever company branches out into multiple industry segments — an incestuous conflict of interest that puts consumers at the losing end.

Anonymous Coward says:

EU vs US companies

A note about the US vs EU laws in the article.
First of all yes, the EU parliament does seem to have something against Google for whatever reason.

On 2nd note, the EU is correct in arguing against US companies from a EU point of view. Currently or for years there has been a discussion about personal data security. First the EU said companies can’t give away personal data to other countires, then they gave in to US pressure (of course the US military bases and nuclear weapons in the EU had nothing to do with it) and stopped th low. Now the law is back again and companies argue that the law would be unfair because they had to violate US law in the EU.

Just to give you the scope of that: Would you as US citizen accept if the EU told your Gov to pass an anti gun law? Read EU law in the US.
That’s why the EU has problems with big US companies: the whole spy on everyone thing. And yes, the NSA is now officialy allowed to spy on US citizens too.

Khaim (profile) says:

Re: EU vs US companies

Just to give you the scope of that: Would you as US citizen accept if the EU told your Gov to pass an anti gun law? Read EU law in the US.

Probably. I mean, why did the EU citizens accept it? I’m guessing (as I have no knowledge of this particular law) that the EU politicians who sunk the law never ever admitted that it was because of US pressure. Plausible deniability.

Still, your overall point is correct: the EU can pass laws that control what US companies do in their territory. Whether it’s in their interests to do so is another matter. The European search market is so incredibly lopsided that I feel like Europe simply can’t produce its own search company, or they’d have done it already.

A. Lauridsen says:

In a word, Yes.

I congratulate you on writing a long opinion piece, where:
1) There is no relation between the subject and the actual content.
2) Writing a long list of claims without any kind documentation to the claims made.

The European Commission claims to have proof that Goole doctored the search results in order to promote its own products rather that provide you with a search result matching your REAL search criteria.

Whether this proof will hold up in a court of law (European Court of Justice) still needs to be determined. If it does, Google may be fined up 10% of its global turnover for operating a business in the EU in violation of the EU fair competition laws.

In short, I thing you should:
a) Alter the title of your opinion piece.
b) Provide proof for the claims made.

or alternately, delete it.

Richard (profile) says:


One could argue that the best solution would be for search to be like the BBC – an arms length government operation.

Most in the UK would agree that the BBC structure has produced an ideal compromise between the twin evils of government interference and corporate self interest.

Unfortunately the creation of the BBC was something of an accident of history that is almost impossible to re-create deliberately.

Of course it would mean that each country would have its own search engine – but what is wrong with that? At present I am frequently annoyed by US pollution of search results when I am looking for something local.

Anonymous Coward says:

Do You Really Want Governments Deciding Search Results?

No – there are enough political motives that this can be a serious problem.

Do I want those same search results decided by a private business like Google, who has a profit motive and even less transparency about how they operate? They have just as many reasons to manipulate results as a government.

Of course, there is a popular opinion that a “free market” will fix any problems if we keep things in the hands of private businesses. Do you see much competition in the “search market”? In the real world, it is a balance between “free market” and “government regulation” that produces the best results. When each side is conflict, they keep each other honest and better solutions are found. Unfortunately, as we’ve been seeing recently, when business and industry start to be on the same side, there is no incentive to stay honest and society tends towards fascism.

What we should be recognizing is that services such as “search” is quickly becoming a necessary utility. There are various ways to run a utility, but they all need to operate transparently and under heavy regulation. Failure to do so will only give more power in the long run to the people that control the search service. The power to manipulate results is bad enough, but let’s not forget that there is also power in being able to data mine the search queries.

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