The Google Problem

July 18th, 2011 | Bookmark and Share | SUBSCRIBE

“Serving our end users is at the heart of what we do and remains our number one priority” (Google Founders’ Letter, 2004).

So said Larry and Sergey in the year they took Google public.  But six years earlier, when they were still students at Stanford, they had a different view.  In an academic paper they wrote in 1998, Larry and Sergey warned:

“Advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of consumers” (Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine, 1998).

And therein lies The Google Problem.

It is on this realization that Larry and Sergey have built one of the most insidiously anticompetitive businesses of our time. Google’s point-by-point rebuttal of the concerns FairSearch raises is quite revealing about Google’s view of its place in the world.

Google says “we built Google search for consumers, not web sites.” The assertion may come as a surprise to Google shareholders. We think it’s fair to say Google search was built for advertisers, not consumers.

Google is, after all, an advertising company.  It doesn’t “organize the world’s information” just to be helpful.  It does so to make money.  By selling ads.  To advertisers.  Without whom Google would not exist.

Here’s the bottom line.  Larry and Sergey had it right back in 1998, pre-IPO, pre-billions.  There is an inherent conflict of interest in an advertising-funded search engine between profits and consumer benefits. When real competition exists, it keeps that conflict in check and drives companies to innovate in ways that are responsive to customers and end-users.

But when a dominant player, like Google, is allowed to abuse its strength to shield itself from competition, that’s a big problem for Internet users and businesses alike.

Need to see evidence? Just take a look around FairSearch.org and explore Searchville. Decide for yourself. (Of course, Google would rather you just take its word for it that someone else is to blame.)

We’ll let Larry and Sergey (circa 1998) have the last word:

“Since it is very difficult even for experts to evaluate search engines, search engine bias is particularly insidious” (Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine, 1998).