UK Politicians Want To Regulate Google... Because It's Good At What It Does

from the searching-for-a-clue dept

I recognize that there's been a weird backlash against Google in the UK, since Prime Minister David Cameron has been asking questions about why companies like Google aren't starting in the UK. Rather than actually looking into the core issues, it appears that many are simply trying to take Google down a notch instead. The latest, as pointed out by Glyn Moody appears to be a bit of a retread of some older arguments. However, it's being done by British MPs. Yes, they're suddenly calling on the UK government to regulate Google.

Why? Well, as far as I can tell, the argument is that Google is good at what it does, and people like it, so thus it must be punished. I really wish there were more to it than that, but that really does seem to be the heart of it: let's regulate Google because we're jealous that it's successful.

The debate apparently was kicked off by MP Dominic Raab, repeating the old story about Foundem, whose only purpose in life seemed to be to bitch about Google. Foundem, of course, was a tiny search engine that no one heard of that offered little value, and was exactly the kind of website that people hate getting pointed to in search results, because it feels spammy. Google -- quite reasonably -- buried Foundem's results. It wasn't -- as Foundem's execs and Raab now claim -- because Google was "scared" of this competitor and was shutting it out of the market, but because Foundem sucked and people didn't like it.

Yet Raab uses this example of Google better serving its customers, as an excuse to regulate the company:
Mr Raab said that the effect was to suppress Foundem in Google search results. Mr Raab pointed out that the alleged treatment of Foundem would be sufficient to bury and kill off many businesses. He accused Google of deliberately "stacking the deck" against small competitors and called for government policy to address what he called ‘search engine transparency'.

Mr Raab accused the regulators, Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading, of complacency. He called on them to take action against companies abusing dominance. "Search engines are the gateways to the Internet, and with a 95% share, Google is in a dominant position"

"If Google does not allow consumers to access potential competitors via its search engine gateway, they will be choked out of the market-place" he said.
First of all, search engines are less and less the gateway to the rest of the internet in an age of social media. Even if Google dominates in search traffic, more and more people are finding out about other sites online from their friends via social media. Second, and more importantly, nowhere does Raab explain why what Google did was bad. He just assumes that it must be bad. However, if Google is suppressing bad results that users don't want, isn't that a good thing? Serving customers better is a good thing, and if Foundem's having trouble getting users, the fault is clearly with Foundem, not Google. And it's pretty weak for politicians to be looking to prop up a failed company, just because another company is good at what it does.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 6:53am

    Sounds like a scene out of Atlas Shrugged

    This story sounds eerily similar to the plot line of the movie Atlas Shrugged.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 6:56am

    You cannot truely be arguing that google is immune to monopoly legislation? Anyone with a huge market share in the UK gets negative attention from the government, its just how it goes.

     

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  3.  
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    Cowardly Anon, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 7:12am

    I've never really understood Foundem's argument in any of this.

    I mean, isn't it sort of a bad business model if you are providing a search engine that you rely on Google to send traffic to you? Isn't that kinda doing it wrong?

    If people are all ready using Google as their search engine, why on earth would they use another one?

    The way I see this argument is that they weren't competing with Google, they were leaching off it. When Google made it so that they couldn't profit off this leaching any more they started whining.

     

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  4.  
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    David, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 7:13am

    It's also worth noting that Foundem is a part of Microsoft lobbying groups in the Europe and the US.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 7:14am

    Re:

    Not when your service doesn't harm nor lock-in users.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Apr 21st, 2011 @ 7:26am

    Re:

    "Foundem is a part of Microsoft lobbying groups "

    I was going to mention that also. Microsoft seems to be at the point in its life span where it is legislating, and suing to destroy all it competitors due to decreasing market share. They are going state by state and getting anticompetative laws passed to prevent foreign companies using pirated software and Linux from doing business in the US. This is aimed at forcing china to buy only microsoft products based on its patents.

    Kinda scummy thing to do.

     

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  7.  
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    Matt (profile), Apr 21st, 2011 @ 7:28am

    News Flash...

    ...governments like power and increased regulation leads to increased power

     

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  8.  
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    Matt (profile), Apr 21st, 2011 @ 7:33am

    Re: Re:

    So when Google filed an antitrust complaint over Microsoft shipping IE7 with Live/Bing as the default search engine was Google in the point of it's life span where "it is legislating, and suing to destroy all it competitors due to decreasing market share"?

    I'm not defending Microsoft by anymeans, just pointing out that it's not just them. Unfortunately it's safer to exploit the legal system and governments to keep competitors at bay than be principled.

     

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  9.  
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    charliebrown (profile), Apr 21st, 2011 @ 7:33am

    Google Schmoogle

    Why regulate Google? It's becoming pointless!

    I found TechDirt from a friend who showed me an article from it but accidentally linked me to the main page instead of the article.

    I found two fantastic sites that I now frequent, one thanks to a friend and one thanks to my Dad!

    I found a site that archives the Australian music charts thanks to Wikipedia.

    When I want to find the availability of a DVD, I go to Amazon and ezyDVD first (both found from simply hearing about them)

    When I want to find the availability of a song, I go to Wikipedia first and usually eBay second when I find out that it is actually 25+ years old and hard to get.

    In fact, I have only one website that I frequent that I found through Google - and even then it was linked to from another site!

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 7:40am

    Where do people come up with this? I did not find google through yahoo/msn/altavista or even dogpile. That's not how google got started, why should google make a point of actively helping a competitor get started in a way that it did not, at the detriment to it's current customers? That is ignoring the point that google's role is not there to make you repeat the process pointlessly. My interaction with any service should not go along the lines of
    Me: Do you have this ______ ?
    Company: You should check ______ instead.
    Me: But... I don't like them, that's why I asked YOU.
    Company: I like me too, but I'm not allowed to give you what you want.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 8:05am

    Google can suppress Foundem for "low quality", but they can't suppress blatant piracy sites for illegal activity?

    Yeah, that sounds about right.

    Typical Google.

     

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  12.  
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    The eejit (profile), Apr 21st, 2011 @ 8:10am

    Re: Google can suppress Foundem for "low quality", but they can't suppress blatant piracy sites for illegal activity?

    Nice strawman you have there. Want some piracy with that?

     

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  13.  
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    Ayn Rand, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 8:16am

    Re: Sounds like a scene out of Atlas Shrugged

    I was thinking the exact same thing when I read this...You know that was a book first, right? This is exactly what Rand was talking about when she wrote Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged...over 50 years ago.

     

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  14.  
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    Phillip (profile), Apr 21st, 2011 @ 8:24am

    Re: Google can suppress Foundem for "low quality", but they can't suppress blatant piracy sites for illegal activity?

    yes, because link farms are the exact same thing as a site full of downloads.

    As has been pointed out again and again google has no way of knowing what is authorized and what isn't that isn't there job.

    This is clearly shown in the Viacom vs Youtube case. Many of the videos complained about where actually uploaded by Viacom employees. So how is google supposed to know which videos/files are legit and which aren't when even the copyright owners get confused.

     

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  15.  
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    Gracey (profile), Apr 21st, 2011 @ 8:28am

    Interesting. If I do a "google search" for the phrase "search engine" the first one that comes up in the serps is dogpile, with google second (though they are my default search), the third is bing, then altavista, ask, meta crawler, duckduckgo, and yahoo at the bottom of the page. I didn't bother looking at page 2, so personally there's enough choice for me on the first page of the serps that I probably wouldn't look at anything past the first page.

    I use dogpile rarely, but they sometimes have different results than google, so I do use them, but rarely.

    If foundem wasn't on the first page I'd never see them...and probably neither would a lot of other people.

    Were they ever on the first page of serps? And if not, how far down the serps would most people go to find a search engine?

    I rather used to like Miss Dewey, it'd be nice to get her back since it helped surpress the boredom from time-to-time :)

     

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  16.  
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    Del Boy, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 8:33am

    'Why? Well, as far as I can tell, the argument is that Google is good at what it does, and people like it, so thus it must be punished. I really wish there were more to it than that, but that really does seem to be the heart of it: let's regulate Google because we're jealous that it's successful.'

    No because Google is operating outwith our retarded police/nanny state & Tards like Raab - make a living out of funnelling everything good into the states control...

     

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  17.  
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    Duke (profile), Apr 21st, 2011 @ 8:35am

    Full text of the "debate"

    The full text of the "debate" is here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2011-04-05a.253.0#g253.1

    I put "debate" in ""s as it was more or less the three of them ranting at Google (I managed to catch some of it live) with no one there to put them right.

    I found it particularly interesting to hear Ed Vaizey (Minister at DCMS) going on about wanting to "stay focused on the need for an open internet" the same week he was in secret talks with the copyright lobby and ISPs over web-blocking.

    As one of his constituents, I'm tempted to write to Mr Raab and point out his errors (and how "search neutrality" is a meaningless or self-contradictory phrase), but I don't suppose it will do any good. Plus, this debate was a couple of weeks ago - do people think it is worth it?

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 8:38am

    Re:

    That sounds remarkably similar to paying taxes in germany. I once called the taxoffice to ask something about all those forms and the woman at the other end replied: 'yes, you should use a tax adviser for that'. So I asked: 'can you give me the contact info of such a person'. On which she answered: 'no we are not allowed to do that.'

     

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  19.  
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    Mr. Oizo, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 8:40am

    Re: Google can suppress Foundem for "low quality", but they can't suppress blatant piracy sites for illegal activity?

    Quality is defined how people like the results, not how regulators and controlfreaks like them.

     

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  20.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Apr 21st, 2011 @ 9:11am

    Re: Full text of the "debate"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 9:14am

    "And it's pretty weak for politicians to be looking to prop up a failed company, just because another company is good at what it does."

    Sorry, in the day of government imposed plutocracy, that's just what politicians do. Look at television and the lack of broadcasting and cableco competition thanks to the government.

    "Search engines are the gateways to the Internet, and with a 95% share, Google is in a dominant position"

    The mainstream media channels are the gateway to the airwave broadcasting spectra and to cableco broadcasting yet they unduly crush criticisms about them and pro-IP criticisms, yet I see politicians doing absolutely nothing about that.

    The purpose of allowing search engines to exist isn't to ensure competitors profit too. It's to serve the public good. If Google is doing such a good job that competitors can't compete, then I see no problems with that. It's a free market and competitors have just as much a chance of competing because everyone has very easy access to those competitors. If Google starts doing poorly and a competitor can better serve the market needs, competitors will naturally prevail. That's free market capitalism. It's not about ensuring or a competitor a job, that's similar to communism. It's about letting the free market serve the public.

    This is nothing short of another attempt by politicians to eventually instate search engine monopolies that result in censorship and bad results and huge revenues for the monopolists (for not innovating and for doing nothing) who then use that revenue to contribute to political campaigns. Just like with everything else, the government has to grant a monopoly on any non-monopolized successful industry that consumers benefit from to minimize consumer benefit and maximize industry (and political campaign) benefit. It's very sad and unacceptable. At least in the U.S. there is almost nothing that the government doesn't grant a monopoly on. Mailbox delivery, electricity delivery, Cableco infrastructure, broadcasting spectra, everything you buy is covered by multiple, often ridiculous, patents, taxi cab monopolies, copy'right' monopolies, the hotel industry, and the list goes on and on and on. Then the mainstream media likes to turn around and harp about how they support the free market capitalistic society that doesn't exist.

    "Mr Raab pointed out that the alleged treatment of Foundem would be sufficient to bury and kill off many businesses."

    The customers treatment of boycotting a business can be sufficient to bury and kill off many businesses. Wal marts treatment of not offering advertisements for Kmart or any other business in Wal-Marts store is sufficient to bury and kill off many businesses.

    Not promoting another business is not the same thing as killing off and burring that other business. What kills off and buries other businesses are government imposed monopolies, like taxi cab monopolies, broadcasting monopolies, cableco monopolies, etc.... That's sufficient to kill off and bury other businesses. Having a competitor not promote its competition is not.

    "He called on them to take action against companies abusing dominance."

    So Wal Mart is abusing its dominance by not advertising for K-Mart in their stores.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 9:18am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I think there is a difference between Google initiating lawsuits against Microsoft and Google countering a Microsoft lawsuit with another lawsuit.

    http://www.makeupload.com/news/Microsoft+Files+Antitrust+Suit+Against+Google

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 9:19am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    (the strategy of Google's lawsuit wasn't to initiate a lawsuit, it was an attempt to get Microsoft's lawsuits off Google's back)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    harbingerofdoom (profile), Apr 21st, 2011 @ 9:41am

    i would just like to point out:
    "If Google does not allow consumers to access potential competitors via its search engine gateway, they will be choked out of the market-place" he said.

    hey genius... see that thing up at the top that starts with http?? ya..its called an address bar
    type in something up there in a properly formatted fashion and bingo... you are there.

    the internet was kinda designed that way and google is not any sort of gateway, its a tool... if you want access to googles competitors just go to their site.

     

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  25.  
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    MrWilson, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 11:04am

    Re:

    Market share in this respect is determined by the users. Default search engines in browsers can be changed. Internet users can navigate to other search engines. Google is dominant because they provide a good service, not because they're anti-competitive.

    You can even google "google alternatives" to find other search engines.

    Try it: http://www.google.com/search?q=google+alternatives.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Pete Carroll (profile), Apr 21st, 2011 @ 1:50pm

    Whoa! Vaizey told MPs to take a hike on Google probe

    Just hold your horses there. The MPs may have wanted the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to investigate Google- but the bottom line was he told MPs that:

    "The EU anti-trust probe is, I think, an adequate remedy at the moment, and I gather that the OFT looked into the matter three or four years ago and does not feel the need to do so again at this time."

    source for this is the April 6th Story in the The Register:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/04/06/net_neutrality_foundem_google_uk_probe_rejected /

    Of course Vaizey's answer wouldn't have had anything to do with Google helping the UK government out over blocking digital "piracy" sites

    q15....
    "Jeremy Hunt: Yes, but the other point I would make is that there may be other ways to do this. One of them, for example, is making it harder to find those sites on search engines like Google. One of the encouraging things that has happened as a result of roundtables that have been set up by Ed Vaizey has been that Google is co-operating in a way that has not happened previously. It is now much harder to find many of those sites than it has been before, but I am sure there is much more work that can be done.

    Q16 Ms Bagshawe: That is a tremendous achievement for the Minister for the Arts, which the industry is very grateful for. …"

    (taken from the uncorrected transcript of March 30th meeting of parliamentary Culture, Media, Sport Committee, questions to Jeremy Hunt (Vaizey's boss) about our Digital Economy Act )

    see http://scibella.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/the-lion-the-lamb-shall-lie-down-together/ for links to the transcript etc..

    Last thing, now that the Judicial Review of the Digital Economy Act has come out in favour of the UK government maybe they don't need Google so much anymore over digital piracy - so who knows how that feeds into the Hargreaves IP review/Google=fair use= "End of civilisation as we know it" (Daily mail, ITV, record companies etc) fight that's shaping up in the UK.

     

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  27.  
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    hmm (profile), Apr 22nd, 2011 @ 9:40am

    well

    Google can suppress Foundem for "low quality", but they can't suppress blatant piracy sites for illegal activity?

    No but they COULD suppress the "low quality" pirate sites and just push the higher quality ones to the top of the view...if thats what you'd like? :)

     

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  28.  
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    Round 2, Apr 25th, 2011 @ 8:50am

    Gov at its best

    You know if the UK gov wants to be as stupid as the US. They can just follow in their footsteps and bail out the troubled UK companies. I mean what else is tax payer money for right?

     

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  29.  
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    Matt, Apr 25th, 2011 @ 12:10pm

    Foundem isn't a search engine in the way Google is. It's a price comparison site like Kelkoo, Ciao and Pricerunner etc... It's not a competitor to Google's main purpose however it does compete with one of it's smaller services.

    Their argument was that Google were manually penalising their rankings while Google's own shopping comparison service was getting top billing on results.

    Foundem was penalised for lacking unique content whereas if you look at Google's service it is pretty much the same. Reviews are aggregated from other sites and nothing is really original. Both Foundem and Google Shopping simply offer a decent price comp service.

    By promoting Google shopping and actively devaluing competitors from their search results may be considered illegal in UK monopoly law. I feel, whatever the outcome, people are obliged to at least investigate.

    Okay, Google will want to promote their own services highly on their own search results, that's a given. But Microsoft want to use their own browser on their own operating system....

    Whether you agree or not, Google is a near monopoly so has to be looked at the same way as monopolies on other industries.

    I don't think you can ignore it just because they are good at being Google...

     

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  30.  
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    David Burlison, Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 3:31pm

    Regulation of Google

    It has gotten to the point where Google has too much arbitrary power to tell the world what is valuable information, and to exclude information they seem not relevant,and within a setting where Google controls a massive amount of the world's information..Democracy and free speech mandates the free-flow of information that is not regulated by a unregulated corporate entity..

    Free Travel Guides-World Tripplanner:

    http://www.travelaskthelocals.yolasite.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    DP, Mar 20th, 2012 @ 12:36pm

    sidestepping the issue

    Finally, Matt brought sense to the conversation -interesting how little more to say after that. I've seen so many articles defend Google and sidestep the issues or throw in straw-men not related to the issue (& like many of the comments). It's NOT about comparing one search engine with another. But about putting Google's own shopping comparison site (with no more original content than anybody elses) above other shopping comparison sites and holding those to a different standard than their own when it comes to ranking them (which usually comes 3rd place, no matter how good other sites are). Some people prefer to critisize the girl who cries "rape" because she has a motive to "get back" at the accused rapist, rather than truly investigate whether the rape took place or not and actually get to the facts sincerely. I get tired of that kind of supposed journalism that more "takes sides" rather than gets to core of issue and finding out facts. Indeed, no company should RELY on third parties for their own success, but when a 3rd party claims something but does something else, there's nothing wrong with trying to hold them accountable to their own principles.

     

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  32.  
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    lrobbo (profile), Jun 8th, 2012 @ 3:07pm

    The problem now is that it doesn't matter whether or not google is good at what it does, people will use them regardless as they don't know any different.

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2012 @ 1:35pm

    The content of this article is drawn from an original by Monica Horten of Iptegrity.com and cites her text.
    http://www.iptegrity.com/index.php/digital-britain/635-calls-for-controls-on-google-in-uk-parliame nt

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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