I recently wrote about what a joke the concept of "search neutrality"
is, because, by their very nature, search results are supposed to be a ranking of what the site thinks the user wants most. It appears that the folks who are paid handsomely to push this "search neutrality" meme aren't too happy that someone has called them out for making something out of nothing. Scott Cleland, who is famously paid to blog anything that will make Google look bad, took issue with my statements, and sought to debunk what I had to say
. To those pushing search "search neutrality," I would suggest coming up with better arguments (or finding someone who can actually argue logically), because Cleland's points don't cut it. Basically, he pretended I said something I didn't say and then ran with it.
Specifically, he pretends that when I say that search is inherently non-neutral, I mean that it's okay for Google to give higher ranking results to advertisers. I neither said nor implied any such thing. What I said (I thought clearly, but it's easier for Cleland to knock over a strawman) was that there's no such thing as "neutrality" in search, because any
ranking is biased by what the search engine thinks is best
. A "neutral" search engine doesn't exist, because it could never recommend any links. A recommendation is bias, but that's not the same as corruption or undue influence. It just means bias towards recommending what the search engine thinks is best.
However, Cleland jumps off on that to point out that even Google has said that paid search can impact quality. But Cleland is (in his usual manner) taking things totally out of context. The quotes he's discussing were about sites that mix paid search in their organic listings. To date, no one has shown convincing proof that Google has actually done this. If there were proof, then it would suggest that Google was doing something misleading, which would be an issue for the FTC to look at (as it has with other paid search listings in the past). However, that's hardly a call for "search neutrality." Mixing ads into the organic listings is one thing, but that's not what we were discussing. It's just the strawman Cleland tossed out there since he can't let that "search neutrality" thing die.
Second, he quotes Google saying that it doesn't "manipulate rankings to put partners higher," as proof that I'm wrong that the "whole point of search is to be biased." Again, he is arguing something I did not say. I said (again, clearly, though Cleland ignores it) that the bias is to put the results that it feels make the most sense out there. Saying that "the whole point of search is biased" does not mean "it's okay to mix paid search in organic results without telling people" as Cleland seems to think. It's almost as if Cleland doesn't even understand how search works.
Finally, Cleland links to a series of recent antitrust lawsuits against Google, which all seem to be based on the same ridiculous misinterpretations
of how search engines work, and claims these are "documented charges of fraud, mis-representation, anti-competitive behavior." Except, they are no such thing. They are claims from a few small companies, bankrolled by Google's competitors, to misrepresent what Google is doing -- sort of like Cleland himself. None of those lawsuits have been decided, but I would be amazed if any of them came out with Google on the losing side. And, finally, on that, I never said that those lawsuits shouldn't move forward (as Cleland implies). I just pointed out that the claim of "search neutrality" being an issue is bogus. But none of these lawsuits are actually about "search neutrality." They're about claims that Google somehow took anti-competitive actions against these sites.
Most importantly, however, the reason people ask for "net neutrality" is because when you have an ISP, you have to go through that ISP to get anywhere. So if it's not "neutral" you can get locked into an experience you don't want. That's not the case with search. If you don't like your search experience, and if you find that the search engine of your choice has polluted its links with paid partners, then you can immediately go elsewhere
. That's the key point, but it's never one that Cleland will address. Because he can't.