Sunday, April 29, 2012

FTC is looking over the shoulder of the "search engine giant"

On Saturday, the New York Times “Business Day” published a piece by David Streitfeld and Edward Wyatt, “U.S. Move Has Google Fighting on 2 Fronts”, link  (with paywall). 

The other front is in Europe, where the legal regulation of Internet companies is stronger.

But the FTC, like the European Commission, is also looking at whether search engine placements by Google might violate antitrust laws, and be harmful to businesses, perhaps not affiliated, that do not score as well in search placements.  I won’t get into biting the “hand that feeds me” here too much, other than to urge reading of the article (paywall).  But it’s hard to see why, in terms of “freedom of speech” (even commercial speech), why the company would not be free to display results and associated ads  (possibly paid) "more or less" as it sees fit.   It would seem (to me, at least, from general observation) that Microsoft’s Bing and Yahoo! Safe Search (for Firefox) follow similar techniques, but have a smaller penetration in the market.

I generally don't depend on raw search engines for comparison shopping.  For airfares, I usually either know about specific bargains, or I go to Priceline.  For example, airlines (American, Delta), offer ground hotel and rental car packages (sometimes significantly discounted) by "search"; could they be exposed to the same regulatory pressures?  (I generally find airlines-offered deals competitive.) 

Search results have also been controversial in the subject of online reputation, although Google, Bing and Yahoo! also seem to place professional-looking pages that they can find about a person first.  

Pictures: Science and Engineering Exhibit, today, Washington Convention Center; I got there rather late. 

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