Europe investigates Google: Rigged search rankings?

By Richi Jennings. December 1, 2010.

Google logo (Google)
The European Commission (EC), the executive body of the European Union (EU), has launched an anti-trust investigation into Google. It follows allegations from competitors that Google manipulated search results unfairly and rigged the online advertising market. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers explain what's really going on.

Your humble blogwatcher curated these bloggy bits for your entertainment. Not to mention RIP, Leslie Nielsen; thanks for the LOLs...

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Peter Sayer says:

Complaints from other search service providers sparked the investigation. ... The companies told the commission that Google treated their services unfavorably. ... They also alleged that Google gave its own services preferential placement.

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The commission is particularly concerned that Google may have lowered the ranking ... of rival providers of services such as price comparators, in order to promote similar services of its own. ... Opening the investigation does not imply that ... the commission ... already has proof of any infringements but that it is looking for it.
M0RE

John Oates adds:

The commission will also look at allegations that Google unfairly lowered the "Quality Score" for sponsored links of competing services ... plans to investigate claims that Google imposes exclusivity agreements with advertisers.

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[Google] has long claimed its search results are based purely on algorithms, not people, and it cannot reveal how they work because [that] would allow companies to 'game' the system.
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Google's Susan Wojcicki and Udi Manber tag-team their thoughts:

We’ve always focused on putting the user first by providing the best possible answers as quickly as possible. ... results that users seem to like. ... Given our success ... it’s entirely understandable that we’ve caused unease among other companies.

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There will almost always be website owners who are unhappy about their rankings. The most important thing is that we satisfy our users. ... We always distinguish advertising content from our organic search results. ... We aim to be as transparent as possible. ... At the same time, we don’t want to help people game our system.
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Calling the investigation "incredible stupidity," Danny Sullivan ladles on the sarcasm:

I did a search at Google today for “cars” and was shocked. Rather than list links allowing me to search for “cars” on Bing, Yahoo, Baidu, Voila, Naver and Yandex, Google instead favored its own search results. ... Google’s behavior ... is preventing its competitors from receiving valuable traffic.

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Enough Sarcasm. ... If you logically think about this argument from a user perspective ... it makes no sense. ... Google is a search engine. ... It’s their job. If they are not allowed to do this, they cannot serve their users. ... Will Google be deemed so dominant that the only way to ensure competition is to literally force it to send people away to competitors?
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And Jeff Jarvis has a history lesson:

It was Google that created the ethic of search results untainted by business. Its model before that was GoTo/Overture, which sold search position. Analysts thought they were nuts ... when Google decided not to tell search positions.
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Meanwhile, here's Mike Butcher with a European perspective:

The EU is obliged to look into whether Google has purposely lowered the search rankings of price comparison sites Foundem (UK) and Ciao (owned by Microsoft) ... and French legal search engine ejustice.fr.

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[It's] particularly sensitive for European startup search providers since there is often a view ... that Google feels it can get away with doing some things ... away from the harsh gaze of SIlicon Valley’s media.

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This investigation coming down hard on Google or levying a fine is pretty unlikely. ... The Commission is, in practice, often prepared to play ball and horse trade. But ... Google will have to step up to the plate and answer the charges in a formal and legal manner.
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And Finally...

 
 
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Richi Jennings, your humble blogwatcher
  Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and security. A cross-functional IT geek since 1985, you can follow him as @richi on Twitter, pretend to be richij's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email: itbw@richij.com.

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