Do We Really Want EU Bureaucrats Deciding What Google Search Results 'Should' Look Like?

from the this-won't-end-well dept

After a 20 month investigation, the FTC -- whose boss made it clear he absolutely wanted to bring down Google if he could -- couldn't find any evidence that Google's search results were somehow anticompetitive. All of the evidence pointed to the same basic thing: what Google did was for the benefit of its users. While some competitors were upset about it, antitrust should not be about propping up competitors who can't compete, especially if consumers are not being harmed. Besides, if you actually look at the "competitors" who complained the loudest, many of them are doing quite well these days.

Of course, those competitors who spent so much effort pushing to force Google through the antitrust gantlet were pretty upset about the end result. However, they knew what was coming next and warned that Europe would come out with an answer that was more to their liking. And the latest on the EU antitrust investigation suggests that, indeed, European bureaucrats somehow believe that they know better than Google what its search results should look like, and they're planning to force Google to change its results to the bureaucrats' liking.
[Europe's antitrust chief Joaquin] Almunia said in the interview: "We are still investigating, but my conviction is [Google] are diverting traffic," adding: "They are monetising this kind of business, the strong position they have in the general search market and this is not only a dominant position, I think -- I fear -- there is an abuse of this dominant position."
I'm not quite sure how one "diverts" traffic if the solution being provided is reasonably deemed to be better for the consumer. You can only show so many things on a search page, and Google spends a lot of effort figuring out which way seems to get the best results. No matter what, it's going to "divert" traffic from those it doesn't pick to those it does. But that's the business. The better it diverts traffic to help consumers, the better off the public is. And I'm not sure how the user is made "better off" by European politicians determining where Google needs to point people with its results.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Canadian, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 2:07pm

    Looks like it easy to "want" to find a conflict but actually finding one might be tricky. Guess it all depends on how they spin the findings. Just as long as we in North America get the results that are best for us...

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 2:09pm

    Comming Soon to Google.EU

    New and Improved EU Certified Links
    *Helps Protect the Children
    *Filters out Hate
    *Shows only the truth about the great work the EU is doing
    *Provides the things that need to be known exclusively

     

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  3.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 2:11pm

    Google

    They need to get some balls and be like ok we will just pull out of your country for a while. Man you spend time and do the best you can do to make a good product and then everyone uses you and WHAM!!!! Awww you are too big and need to be investigated. They should have located their offices on wall street. Then instead of being too big and getting sued, they could have gotten a bazillion dollars.

     

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  4.  
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    Trevor (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 2:24pm

    Easy!

    "And I'm not sure how the user is made "better off" by European politicians determining where Google needs to point people with its results."

    Easy! Because these politicians use Google, they are "Users." Because they are Users, and don't like the way Google diverts results to them, the Users are harmed until Google diverts results to them in a manner that the politicians prefer, which makes the Users "Better off."

    Duh.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 2:31pm

    Ordering the search results is Googles business. If they think they know of a better way to do that then they should start their own.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 2:38pm

    the more ANY government is allowed to interfere with something that is working perfectly fine but not how the various governments want it to work, eg, for allowing surveillance on what users do, the more it will interfere. that will continue until the point is reached where it does exactly what the governments want but not what it was intended to do or what the users expect it to do. at that point, it is absolutely worthless to anyone but governments will continue to claim it is the poodles plums and use it because it now does what they want but has no one to do it with! the moral of the story is, if you have something that you want to keep working, keep it out of governments hands. if you have something you want totally fucked up, that is then worthless to everyone, let governments interfere with it!!

     

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  7.  
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    Manabi (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 2:43pm

    Re:

    Well you see, one of the major companies behind these complaints is Microsoft, and they tried that with Bing... and they failed, so now they're trying to get the EU (and the FTC before that) to make up for their utter failure to compete in the market by castrating their competition. The other companies are no better, there's lots of companies that produce sites of nothing but search results that are pissed that Google removes them from search results that have complained. (No consumer wants results of more search results as hits, they want the actual answer, so Google rightfully filters that crap out.)

    It's really pretty damn disgusting.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 2:44pm

    Re: Google

    Welcome to the present and the future of the internet. EU has the worlds most ridiculous restiction on the internet and it is only a matter of time before more companies go the way the music business wants it to go: Segregation by country!

    When that is said, Almunia has set a deadline this month for Google to present changes to satisfy the EU commission. In the case of "diverting traffic" it is a very worrying statement, seemingly siding with the newspapers (which is unadulterated insanity). The rest can easily be seen as a kick in the crutch of its advertising service, which from what I have heard from a lot of sources has a more than a bit problematic way to deal with search-results, exclusivity deals and other abusive behaviour (Google has been very fast to close access to sites using competing advertisers if some trojan crap has gone through their filter and extremely slow to open access again when sites are clean and try to get permission)!

     

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  9.  
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    MrWilson, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 2:53pm

    "Diverting traffic" is a really strange phrase to describe Google search results. It just sounds like a biased way to describe the function of every search engine. Search engines provide results that allow users to choose which results to click. Unless they're presenting links that actually go to incorrect sites, "diverting traffic" just can't be an accurate description. There are websites that do that. Google doesn't.

    If a search engine doesn't provide the results that a user wants or likes, they search again using different keywords and operators or they use a different search engine. This, moreso than almost any other technology, is the most susceptible to user preferences driving the market.

    I think they're missing the fact that people using Google is the benefit. Google's not getting artificially inflated use from some misleading practice. People are choosing to use Google's search engine and they're not being forced to do so.

    It would be the equivalent of arguing that Coca-Cola is being unfair because they don't serve Pepsi products out of their vending machines.

     

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    That One Guy (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 2:54pm

    Deja vu?

    It might be a little soon to be crying 'Doom!' on this one, as if memory serves the FTC boss said basically the same things, and had plenty of incentive to nail Google to the wall, yet failed to find enough to actually do so.

    Of course this assume the EU politicians are actually interested in what is rather than what they want it to be, and if they've already made up their minds, and are willing to overlook any reports or cases that present evidence to the contrary, then yeah, Google could be in for a rough time.

     

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  11.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 2:59pm

    Re:

    Actually, given you can find non-google sites, products, and services, including those of their competitors, via a google search just fine, it would be more like saying that Coco-Cola is being unfair and anti-competitive for not actively pushing Pepsi products, on top of having them for sale in their vending machines.

     

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  12.  
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    Spaceman Spiff, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 3:05pm

    Internet for dummies

    Every time europe's antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia does a Google search, he should get some pithy ads for books such as "The Internet for Dummies", "How the Internet Works", and "Why Idiots Should Not Be In Charge of the Internet".

     

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  13.  
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    Nathan F (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 3:07pm

    The EU Commission are fearful that Google is going to push a US based and foreign company that has relevance to the search to the top and push down a local EU company. But then again, I'm just a user, what do I know?

     

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  14.  
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    Arthur (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 3:33pm

    Guilty until competitors are "convinced"

    A response from the commissioner is understood to be imminent, after Almunia’s office told Google in mid-December that it must convince its rivals that it competes fairly in the web search market or else it could – within months – face sanctions for alleged “abuse of dominance.
    Apparently, Google isn't expected to prove they haven't broken any laws. Apparently the EU demands they "convince its rivals that it competes fairly."

    Google: "Gee Microsoft, what would it take to convince you that we compete fairly?"
    Microsoft: "Die! Google! Die!"
    EU: "You didn't 'play fair' and die, Google, it looks like we'll have to sanction you."

     

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  15.  
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    MikeVx (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 4:13pm

    The definition of "Unfair Competition"

    Competition is always unfair when you are the loser.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 4:19pm

    Who are these morons, and why do they think they should be dictating what Google search results should look like?! Someone should take these self-important idiots down a few pegs.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 4:25pm

    Do We Really Want EU Bureaucrats Deciding What Google Search Results 'Should' Look Like?

    NO!

    Further more the changes that google has made I don't care for either.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 4:31pm

    Re:

    There is something to be said for Firefox and Chrome using Google as default starting site. Same goes for their use of google as a default search engine, Chrome by the address bar search which is a problematic redirect since it is unneccesary and to a far lesser extend with the Firefox search engine bar using Google as a default.

    Only problem with going for Google on those points is that it is Firefox and Chrome choosing it and it is therefore not a problem with Google.

     

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  19.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 4:41pm

    Re: Guilty until competitors are "convinced"

    Umm, wow, can you say 'Conflict of interest'?

    So if google fails to convince their competitors that they are 'playing fair', they'll face sanctions and penalties, making things drastically better off for said competitors.

    I think someone needs to check both the brain activity, and the bank account of the person who suggested that as a 'good' idea, as I get the feeling the first is probably flat-lined, and/or the second recently made a rather large spike.

     

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  20.  
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    Matthew Cline (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 4:41pm

    I'm not quite sure how one "diverts" traffic if the solution being provided is reasonably deemed to be better for the consumer.
    I think he probably means something like "if Google's search ranking algorithm ranks one of Google's competitors above itself, then it modifies the algorithm so the Google will come out on top instead". However, there's no way to sum that up in just two words, so he says "diverting traffic" instead.

     

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  21.  
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    Nathan F (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 4:51pm

    Re: Re: Guilty until competitors are "convinced"

    They must want Google to allow others access to their search formulas so they can 'prove' that they are fair, never mind the fact that they would be giving away company secrets like that.

     

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  22.  
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    SN, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 5:19pm

    Ad hoc

    Having moved from Alta Vista to Google and having been around when the original Denali was that which became ASP, and being English I choose to comment.

    Big monopolies tend to create scenarios in which they maintain their monopoly. (Just ask Adam Smith.) At the early chaos which was the internet there were easy places to fit into - for the spaces in the food chain (Darwin) had not been successfully filled.

    Even those early fullfillers were vulnerable to relatively cheap challenges, simply because the cash supporting the incumbents was insufficient to allow them to create a monopoly.

    I am not saying that Google is a monopoly. However as the biggest player by far in the search engine market there are certain requirements as understood by both the USA and Europe which insist on them not abusing their particular position to allow them to create a monopoly.

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

     

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  23.  
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    The Groove Tiger (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 6:36pm

    Look, Google: the solution is very simple.

    What you need is to make an automated system, where every search submitted by someone in the EU generates a phonecall to one of the bureaucrats in question (from a list at random, or rotating). Then, these Bureaucrats are informed that for Google to provide the best service possible, they have to choose which of the search results they should present. Then the Google Master Brain presents them with a menu.

    "If you want to present users with www.techdirt.com, press 1"
    "If you want to present users with www.gardentech.com, press 2"
    "If you want to show users the page 'EU Bureaucrats are Douchebags', press 3"
    "To repeat this list, press 5"

    And so on.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 8:46pm

    Given governments' track record of calling things the exact opposite of what they are, I don't want government ANYTHING messing with Google search results.
    When I search for Cat Videos, I don't want to go through 12 pages of Dog Videos before I get to the cats.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 10:04pm

    first EU is not 'the Government', and of course you would rather have a few Google exec's (suits) who are doing their job to make as much money as possible deciding on your search results rather than an international body who is looking for fairness rather than profit.

    we all know we can trust Google to do the right thing !!!! (yea right).

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 10:12pm

    Re: Re: Re: Guilty until competitors are "convinced"

    and why would Google want to keep their search biases secret if they had nothing to hide ?

    and they would not have to release their "dirty little secrets" to the world or make it public knowledge they would have to make it available to the Governing body on the basis that it would remain a secret (at least to the public).

    It is clear if they are doing nothing wrong, they would have NO issue with providing proof of that fact.

    just as the Government and Governing bodies have been given access to Windows source code, yet it is not public information nor is it generally publicly available.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 10:44pm

    Re: The definition of "Unfair Competition"

    Not really, competition is unfair if not all the parties are playing by the same rules.

    If that is the reason why you lose it is unfair, if everyone is playing under the same rules then it is fair.

    If you go to a football match, one side wins and one loses, but both sides played by the same rules therefore even if you lose you lost fairly.

    Also If you do win and you have not played by the same rules you win is unfair. See lance Armstrong, for example, he won, but he cheated so even though he won it was unfair.

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 10:49pm

    Re: The definition of "Unfair Competition"

    if Google were really willing to play fairly they would make their search methods available as Masnick is always stating make your stuff available and let the market choose.

    the fact they want to keep their search methods secret should rile Masnick as that is not they way to be open in a competitive market

    Why is this ok for Google when according to Masnick it is NOT ok for everyone else ??

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2013 @ 1:18am

    Re: Re:

    Maybe Bing should have tried harder than just copying Google's results and then whining about antitrust when they got caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2013 @ 1:24am

    Re: Re: The definition of "Unfair Competition"

    I don't agree with your football analogy.
    How is Professional NFL vs High School football team a fair competition? They're playing by the same rules.

     

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  31.  
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    Sankara, Jan 12th, 2013 @ 5:36am

    Re: Re: Re: The definition of "Unfair Competition"

    That is a stupid counter analogy, because it does not fit with the whole google point. In your analogy, some High school football team joined the NFL and went against a professional team, and loss. It still is fair, because that is the rule and its the high school football team's fault for entering such competition.

    Like me going to Wall street with 50 dollars and at the end of the day cursing everyone there who had won more money then me.

     

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  32.  
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    Sankara, Jan 12th, 2013 @ 5:44am

    Re:

    Yeah like we can trust the EU to do the right thing (the ACTA act was almost passed).

    The European Union is a higher form of government (The government of the whole European Nation), as it tells other governments what they should do, what their laws should be like and their economy etc. So saying the EU is the government is not such a wrong analogy.

    Also i rather have some greedy profit whore then a body who is after controlling the internet. The internet must be free and no government body or agent or w/e should try to control it. They may set codes of conduct, but till a degree, as long as it does not conflict the human rights and such (freedom of speech, freedom of religion etc.)

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2013 @ 6:14am

    Re: Re: The definition of "Unfair Competition"

    You're delusional as always.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2013 @ 7:36am

    Re: Re:

    All the versions of Firefox I have on 3 machines with 3 flavours of Linux, allow alternative search engines for the search box. As i do mostly fact lookups, I default to Wikipedia as the search engine.
    Firefox also makes it easy to add search engines to the list.

     

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  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2013 @ 7:46am

    Re:

    Hang on: Google does country specific searches, as they realise that American companies are of limited interest in other countries.

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2013 @ 7:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Guilty until competitors are "convinced"

    With Windows, governments have reasonable security concerns which can only be addressed by looking at the source code.
    With Google they can enter searches and see the results, and do the same with their competitors. If Googles competitors give worse results then that is the competitors problem, not Googles.
    Complaints about Googles share of the search market is a bit Like Pepsi complaining about Coke, and requiring that Coke give them their recipe.

     

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  37.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2013 @ 8:06am

    Re:

    Google generally deliver better search results that its competition, and has gained this position by returning the results the user wants, rather than the results that Google wants.

     

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  38.  
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    Reality Check, Jan 12th, 2013 @ 8:35am

    strategery

    It has nothing to do with the consumers (serfs) or the complaining merchants...

    It has everything to do with controlling what the serfs can see. This is just step one, get their hooks into the search engines, the rest of the steps are information control for political and social engineering reasons.

     

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  39.  
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    Ian Waring (profile), Jan 12th, 2013 @ 9:55am

    Given the theory that the EU is supposed to serve me...

    ... please listen to consumers like us, not the shills of Google competitors. You're doing little else than undoing the great work that some of your colleagues like Neelie KROES, who is more representative of public opinion than our own government. Don't be a prat.

     

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  40.  
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    darren squires (profile), Jan 12th, 2013 @ 10:59am

    there are eu officials

    That get their Secretaries to print out their emails for them. Enough said. (This was reported by a fellow official)

     

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  41.  
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    Arthur (profile), Jan 12th, 2013 @ 11:17am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Guilty until competitors are "convinced"

    and why would Google want to keep their search biases secret if they had nothing to hide ?
    Ah! The irony! Posting this ridiculous question ... anonymously!!!

    If you have "nothing to hide", why are you posting anonymously? LOL!

     

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  42.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2013 @ 4:20pm

    Re: strategery

    This is the commission, we are talking about. They are out in a couple of years anyway! Unless it is their advisors (which is actually not that crazy!) they are not really doing anything with that long a horizon.

     

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  43.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2013 @ 4:39pm

    Re: Re:

    We will get an answer before this month is over about what Googles opinion is. As far as I have heard Google are likely to lay flat and make several changes to their search, publish some data on search terms for companies to use and make significant changes to their advertising business.

    The only really potentially problematic thing for private users without a homepage will be the potential changes to their search algorithm and/or crawlers/adsense/analytics etc. And it will likely only be for the better with regards to crawlers (unless they go for the nuclear methods like opt in instead of opt out regarding crawler.).

    The rest will likely only have a limited effect if any on normal users.

    I am not saying it isn't going to be bad, but I really do not see it as anything close to exclusively bad.

     

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  44.  
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    Sacredjunk, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 12:16am

    Re: Re: Google

    AC: EU has the worlds most ridiculous restiction on the internet


    China begs to disagree!

     

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  45.  
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    Sacredjunk, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 12:24am

    Re: Re:

    What about IE which uses Bing as the default search engine? At least firefox makes it easy to change the search engine. On the IE version at my workplace, if i try to install the google search engine from microsoft's official site, it gives a 'Page error' everytime

     

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  46.  
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    Sacredjunk, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 1:18am

    Re:

    Not that I'm supporting him, but I think his argument is something like this..

    If a person googles 'Cola' and google returns a list of only Pepsi websites and not cocacola, then it is unfair on cocacola

    Similarly, Pepsi could theoretically pay Google a good amount to do so

     

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  47.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 5:14am

    Let 'em go

    Seems almost daily I find a reason to suggest that the internet just let go the EU, European newspapers and whoever else wants to shut themselves out of it. Start with the lunatic French and go from there. Collectively, they don't get the idea that if you don't like something, don't use it. Instead they wave their arms and claim Unfair! something and demand that the rest of the world put on the same narrow-focus glasses they wear. Be gone. Please.

     

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  48.  
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    DannyB (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 8:20am

    The EU should start their own search engine

    If the EU really knows what search results you want better than Google does, then they should start their own search engine.

    That's how Google became popular. Google was late to the party. There were other entrenched search engines. Google gave better results. People switched.

    That's the beauty of search engines. There is no monopoly. People are not locked in. They can leave to a competitor any time they want.

    If the EU thinks they know better than Google than they should put their money where their mouth is. Start a new search engine and make a fortune!

     

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


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