Software

Be honest, do you really trust Google?

The FTC is apparently planning to formally investigate Google for anti-trust violations. Do you trust Google's search engine results or do you accept that they are biased?

ZDNet, sister-site to TechRepublic, is reporting that the Federal Trade Commission is poised to issue subpoenas and initiate a formal investigation of Google for violations of federal anti-trust laws. My colleagues on ZDNet have expressed some concern about how and why the FTC has reached this point. I, too, am concerned about the impact such an investigation can have, not only on Google, but on the information technology universe in general.

Does a manipulating search results really constitute anti-trust behavior that rises to the level of an FTC investigation? Or, perhaps, does the realization that Google may not be giving you truly raw search results merely mean you should use a different search engine? Or, even better, that you should parse all search engine results with your own critical thinking to weed out results that may be artificially over-weighted?

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These are just some of the many questions that fly through my mind when I read about an FTC investigation of Google. But let's condense it down to two specific questions. Do you think the Google search engine is really that powerful as to make or break another company's success merely by manipulating search results? Do you trust Google to present you with fair and accurate search results based on a non-biased algorithm, except, of course, for some well-labeled sponsored results?

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About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

41 comments
SherryCan
SherryCan

I haven't used Google for several years now. I use ixquick.com, which doesn't track your IP. Google is in bed with the Marxist President Obama, who, by the way, is evil anyways. So, if Google is in bed with Obama, then they both must be evil. Anyone who used Google deserves what they get.

codepoke
codepoke

The corporate stuff I expect, but I've seen some evidence they tailor my results to match their impression of my predispositions. If they're serving me that with which I'm most comfortable, they're contributing to the fracturing of our society and that's genuinely frightening. Enabling me to live within a bubble infantilizes me. And if the bubble is invisible, if I can't get results that make me uncomfortable, what recourse do I have?

awgiedawgie
awgiedawgie

They're still better at finding actual results. I use Google search to look for information on Microsoft's help website. I've tried Microsoft's own Bing (or is that Bung) search engine, and it's complete crap even when searching within the confines of Microsoft.com. It's even more useless when searching the entire web. When you type a search text into Google, you're not asking them to share with you the criteria they use to arrive at their results. If I type "light bulb" into any search engine, I fully expect their own shopping results page to be among the first set of results - doesn't matter if I'm using Google, Yahoo, or anybody else. I don't see an anti-trust issue here. Granted I don't understand the whole complaint, but then I don't care either. I figure anybody that accepts the top result from any search as being the best possible result needs to stop using the internet until they learn some common sense. Of course, if good sense were really common, we wouldn't need a name for it.

interarticle
interarticle

Some one mentioned an example about searching "app". For whatever reason that doesn't seem to work out here, since a search of app turns app.com.cn as the first item (hence I'm in China), Apple App Store the second, while Google App Engine ranked the sixth. Plus, the paid ad results reside on the RIGHT side of the search results, thus reducing their effects. If the really given us biased results, it isn't that obvious. And, biasing won't work unless they can kick the target company out of the first page (10 or so results). Google hasn't modified most objective results, thus if the searcher possesses a purpose for the search, he/she is mostly unaffected by such an action. Subjective things are subject, and modifying search results isn't the most efficient means here; posting lots of false comments may do better work. Biased search results can only let you go a short way. Perhaps a greater concern is Google's unstoppable attempts at making things for free. That destroys more firms without their type of profit model.

higglepiggle
higglepiggle

Google creates and manages the search Algorithm, so even indirectly i'm sure their own engineers would have a good view of what will help achieve higher rankings for their own products and services. A good example is keyword 'apps' which leads to Google's business apps offering over the likes of Apple and Android web apps. My only criticism would be that google places upto 4 'adword' ads on the left side now, hence favouring firms with deeper pockets to achieve results at the top of the ranking (the very light blue background and 'Ads' wording is so negligible these days). So in essence good firms who do good SEO can at most achieve position no.5 in the rankings (adding in Ads and organic search).

gharlow
gharlow

Googles algorithms favor big business over small. If you are looking for postings by individuals or small organizations without a lot of links and traffic Google may not be your best bet.

Rohit Kadam
Rohit Kadam

Google is one of the best search engine..... my thinking is that mo one can take over Google.... it is fastest engine. whatever you ask i gives the correct answer.

Rodo1
Rodo1

...far more than I trust the US Government. Talk about a 235 year old experiment gone horribly wrong.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

I don't trust Google for anything. Not the search engine - not when they link it to their ad machine. Not their street map view thing [can you say privacy issues - did we ask to have our homes viewed?]. Their ChromeOS will be the biggest blunder of the decade as soon as the first malware made for it hits. Who the hell wants a web browsewr as their desktop? Do I trust their ad system? Nope. Enought malware from it.

.Martin.
.Martin.

but that may just be me.

ITOdeed
ITOdeed

The question should be, "Is Google, by example, showing too much of what our government is already doing to us?" That is to say: Google: "Lobby me and I'll make you rich." Government: "Lobby me and I'll make you rich." It's all about the money.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

It is now standard practice for translation agencies to forbid freelancers from feeding whole sentences into web-based Machine Translation services. Can't give un-screened parts of confidential materials over to data mining. Not that a proper translator would need that anyway.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

"carry me across the river. I wish you no harm, I only wish to be on the other side." says the frog to the scorpion; "why did you sting me? We are half way across and will now both drown." says the scorpion to the frog; "It is my nature."

sboverie
sboverie

Google is more than a search engine, but if the FTC is probing about search engine results and expect Google to work against its own interests then the FTC has silly expectations. Google is a business and as such will work in a way to maximize its profit; directing more customers to its site is good business. If Google is falsifying search results then that would be working against their customers. When a business is able to get more than 20% of the market is when that business has grown enough to distort the market with its actions. Google has a huge portion of the market and that does put them under the microscope. Like Tony Hopkinson said, Google can be trusted to act in their own interest and it is possible that those actions work against my interests. If I find that I am unhappy with the search results then I will use another search engine. The quote "Does Macy's tell Gimble's" is about why would company A pass their marketing strategy to their competitors. If you remember the movie "Miracle on 34th St" there is a scene where Macy's Santa is directing customers to the competition which then caused more business for Macy's. In this case, should Google share their search algorythms with Badue, Bing or any other?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Do I trust Google to act in their own best interest yes. Do I trust that, that is also mine, of course not. Do I believe there is no weighting bias in their search results. Stoopid question, can't imagine anyway there couldn't be some bias. Even if they were absolute paragons of impartiality, search engine optimisation is effectively imposing a bias.... Might as well ask if you trust a politician...

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

While people can be altruistic and may have a better nature, companies must, by the very nature of what they are, be selfish. As such, you can bet at least once in your dealings with a company your interests are going to be evaluated against the companies'... and the company will always choose it's own.

John K.R.
John K.R.

I don't really trust Google, but not on the issue of search results. In terms of search results, Google holds no obligation to give me the 'best' results. As long as Google is providing a service to those that are paying them for the service (advertising), are they really doing anything wrong? I would expect them to manipulate the results in order to provide that service to their customers and even advertise themselves a bit. This may mean I don't get the 'raw' results, but again, Google isn't obligated to give me those. I'm not forced to use Google. There are other options out there and in some ways better options. With the amount of failures Google has under its belt (by failures I mean things that haven't really taken off well for Google) I couldn't care less if they did...

Jaytmoon
Jaytmoon

I trust that Google will provide a result for my query but I know its not the only set of results I can find. There are other search engines and they will deliver other results. I'm certain Google is using the search query to sell to some marketing Company's and likely the government.

RexWorld
RexWorld

Even though Google's share of search has been drifting lower, the last stats I saw still had them at 2/3 of all US searches. Given that market power, they should definitely be under scrutiny from anti-trust regulators. Having said that, of course they're going to bias the search results in a way that favors themselves. Search for "Samsung Netbook", towards the top you'll get a link to Google's shopping engine mixed in with the regular links. It's not called out as advertising, it's just one of the first links for that term.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you think the Google search engine is really that powerful as to make or break another company's success merely by manipulating search results? Do you trust Google to present you with fair and accurate search results based on a non-biased algorithm, except for some well-labeled sponsored results? Is an FTC investigation warranted?

bboyd
bboyd

And letting the golden rule weight in. Googles "Don't be Evil*" should be "do to others as you would have done to yourself" and given real results I would "trust" them more. *the sixth point of the 10-point corporate philosophy of Google which says, "You can make money without doing evil." Your finding that they filter towards your bias is a great step that most will never discover.

belli_bettens
belli_bettens

I know what you're talking about. When developing in VS I often need to find things in Microsoft's MSDN. A few times (I probably woke up very happy and optimistic) I tried to use Bing for that purpose, expecting it could go 'deeper' or something. Surprise! When sometimes even typing 'MSDN' in the keywords, Bing didn't even listed it in the search result! Talk about an alternative...

kajunmanbr
kajunmanbr

.... call their sales division they will be happy to SELL you a tiered program that will guarantee your link will be in the top 'x' positions.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Do you feel their search competitors are any more or less trustworthy? Who do you use for searching?

skh1825
skh1825

There's little things about Google that speak volumes. Look at their logos or graphics. They never display a logo for any kind of patriotic American holiday (such as Memorial Day or Veteran's Day) and there's never a logo for any Christian holy days, such as Easter. Intead, they're always celebrating weird or vague things such as Socialists Party Worker's week or National Potato Day, etc. I don't trust them at all. They save every search word you type in. They post pictures and addresses of people's homes whether you want it or not. They sniff out your wireless network. I can only imagine what they look at or save if you have a Gmail account or use their Google apps. They are digitizing the world's library books. We'll probably have to pay (one way or another) to access this data some day. Who knows what info their Android phones save about you. I use scroogle.org instead to hide my info from Google and never use any Google products or services. They say "Don't be evil" but I say..."Don't be Google"!

cosmos-420man
cosmos-420man

Yet, another with Yahoo! would be precacious. . .

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

My thinking is that you can only trust corporations, people, institutions, politicians to do what is in their best interest. The trick is finding those special situations where your interests and their interests coincide.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Google isn't charging me anything for search results, and I'm under no obligation to use it. I have no expectations of anything 'free' (read: advertising supported).

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

That's why I am asking if search can really be "monopolized" and therefore subject to FTC investigation. It seems way off base to me.

Cannabis Seed
Cannabis Seed

cannabis seed I have to agree. They have made a huge difference to the online community and the businesses that depend on it, but they have too much control and information now and there is a huge void for a competitor

Rodo1
Rodo1

...Pal, and we're going to fix it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've seen plenty of logos for US holidays. But why would you expect an international company to focus on a single country's or religion's holidays anyway? Incidentally, you have to 'pay' to use libraries already; it's called taxes. You have a point regarding privacy, but it gets lost in the jingoistic rhetoric.

Solenoid
Solenoid

Really? have you ever seen the Google Doodle (the name of that funny logo or graphic which you speak of) on a major holiday, or are you too busy (observing..) to bother to see it? They've had nice ones about all that you speak of. You can even find a backlog of all of them if you... searched! Your one legitimate criticism is constantly reviewed by more professional analysts: Privacy. I get it. You value yours. Then why speak out at all if you don't trust a thing? You know.. (leans close) Google now knows that you said those nasty things about them! Oh I see: you value your Freedoms (such as speech) so much that you lack critical thinking of when not to exercise it. You have a second believable sentence in there. "I don't trust them at all." You could have just said that. Edit: ad hominem attack removed as unproductive. I do trust Google, as far as I'm willing to use it. That is, commonly but not absolutely.

kajunmanbr
kajunmanbr

Google is using it's abilities to campaign for and help Obama's reelection. Didn't read the article, huh? There may be some federal laws that prohibit this sort of campaigning from large corps. But it does prove the point that Google has the ability to be a major player in the political world while posing as a 'search engine' and supposedly doing business as a nonpartisan business. So no I don't trust Google and I use other search engines.

Realvdude
Realvdude

Google returned the merriam-webster.com website before dictionary.reference.com, unlike several other search websites, as well as a couple of other results ordering bias ;-(

soukyogurentai
soukyogurentai

I just used Google to look up ad hominem :-) I've used Google since 1998. No other search engine comes close. I like the Google doodles, They are educational and give credit to past trailblazers in modern history that are not well known now.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Lots of companies use resources to support candidates; lots of non-profits and unions too. Many of them support more than one candidate for an office. Why single out Google? How is what they're doing different from a company or union that sponsors a candidate's rally?

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