We've seen way too many lawsuits
from people who get upset that Google doesn't rank them highly enough (or that Google has erased them from its index for gaming the search rankings). They often seem to think that it's a natural right that Google must rank them and must rank them highly. Of course, some of us feel that Google is a private company, and has the right to rank sites however it wants. If those rankings aren't very good, then that simply represents an opportunity for the other search engines to provide a better solution and steal away users. Law professor Eric Goldman, who tends to agree
with us on that point, now points
us to a new academic paper suggesting the opposite: that search engines should be regulated as their results represent a form of free speech
. Specifically, the paper argues four key points should be regulated into place:
- Search engines should not be allowed to remove any sites from a search index unless required to remove it by law.
- Search engines must reveal the basis of their ranking methodology and must continue to use the methodology they have made public
- Search engines cannot manipulate search results except if there is a clear example of abuse that needs to be changed
- Search engines should be required to clearly state which results are paid and which are organic
The first three points seem to be based on the idea that somehow some sites' right to free speech is somehow blocked by search engines not ranking them "properly." While the author admits that free speech issues revolve around gov't, not private company, censorship, she presents a rather complex argument that the internet is a platform for free speech and any intermediaries that get in the way of a listener hearing any particular opinion is thus interfering with free speech. It seems like quite a stretch. In the meantime, we've yet to see why this is a problem that requires legal help. Are there really important sites that have been shut out of the public realm by bad search engine rankings? These days, if a search engine really blocked out such a site, it would almost immediately allow the site owners to get publicity for being "blocked" and generate much more attention. However, we've yet to hear any credible claims of any search engine blocking any legitimate site, other than for trying to manipulate the search engine, for which it seems perfectly reasonable to get banned. As for requiring search engines to clearly mark paid and organic search, it's unclear why this isn't already covered by the FTC concerning deceptive advertising. So, at this point, it seems hard to justify the need for additional regulation.