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back to article We probe the Google anti-trust probe. Vigorously

Google says it hides the inner workings of its search engine because it doesn't want websites and advertisers gaming the thing. But what's to stop Google from gaming its own search engine? That's the issue at the heart of the European Commission's investigation into Google's search and ad practices, formally announced Tuesday …

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Go

Getting rid of price comparisons was good actually

If we stick to the question of "price comparison" I'd rather have _NONE_ of them anywhere on the first page unless I have explicitly put price in the search terms.

There was a point about 3 years back where they were the biggest spammer of organic search results especially for computer kit. Google did something (we do not know what) to get them off that position so that there are organic search results in the first page. As someone who regularly searches for specs on obsolete hardware I am quite grateful for that.

It after that added its own comparison as a paid link through the bidding process.

If it has done this according to the same rules which apply to everyone, well tough luck, price comparison engines are more than welcome to bid for the same spot and if all of them are getting the boot out of the top the same way... Well tough luck... From a UE perspective that is better than the massive comparison pollution from 3 years back where the top 10 results on nearly anything were prise comparison sites.

That means nothing as far as Google and monopoly law by the way. That however is an entirely different matter.

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This

Unless I add 'price comparison' to my search, I would far rather have one price comparison site (Google's) come up than the page of parasites that used to appear.

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Ah, memories...

I'd almost forgotten about that state of affairs. I remember having a text file saved on my desktop that was basically a massive exclude list to use when I needed, you know, "information" and not "cheap deals".

In fact, being a cyberhoarder, I still have it:

googlewithoutreviewshitsites.txt

===

-site:zdnet.com -site:cnet.com -site:wikio.co.uk -site:nytimes.com -site:nytimes.com.com -site:ciao.co.uk -site:twenga.co.uk -site:kelkoo.co.uk -site:reviewcentre.com -site:nextag.co.uk -site:cnet.co.uk -site:amazon.com -site:amazon.co.uk -site:dabs.com -site:bt.com -site:shopwiki.co.uk -site:shoppydoo.com -site:bizrate.co.uk -site:dealtime.co.uk -site:trustedreviews.com -site:dolphinmusic.co.uk -site:ciao.com -site:dooyoo.co.uk -site:comparestoreprices.co.uk -site:onino.co.uk -site:moneysupermarket.com -site:epinions.com -site:idealo.co.uk -site:applemac.biz -site:cnet.com.au -site:pricegrabber.co.uk -site:shopping.bit-tech.net

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Unhappy

The new MS

Sounds a lot like Microsoft's anti-competitive actions that significantly contributed to the killing of DR-DOS, Netscape and others by rigging the playing field of the desktop PC. Funny how any dominant business eventually turns to dirty tricks to keep itself up there...

But I also agree with Anton Ivanov, I don't want my search results polluted with comparison sites so they should be a separate area of the returned results.

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Grenade

words, images (not images - that would be silly), numbers, ...er symbols

Who'd have thought you could get into so much trouble by offering an excellent free service and selling advertising to people who aren't obliged to buy it? Last time I looked *lots* of other people were trying to attract advertisers as well. If they just aren't as good at it, whose fault is that?

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FAIL

LOL... A google-ite speaks.

Funny, but the last time I checked. Google wants exclusivity to web sites when it comes to advertising. Since Google has the deep pockets and the market dominance... they win.

The little guy doesn't have a chance.

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Badgers

Customisation

To me the obvious answer would be more customisation of your search page, using your existing Google account.

Don't like results from roseindia.net (or whatever it's called?). Click the X next to the search result and exclude them from future result pages when you're signed in. Want your little map or image results that appear when you search for "Taj Mahal" to be provided by Microsoft? Select Microsoft from a drop-down menu of sites that implement that interface, a bit like the browser choice screen the EU forced on Microsoft in Windows.

Then the services can compete on merit - which the Google products still seem to come out on top in most cases. MapQuest is a good example - the old MapQuest was awful, Google Maps came along with a nice AJAXy seamless view and I moved over to using that almost overnight. The fact that it sometimes appears at the top of Google searches has very little to do with my use of the service - the excellent mobile apps and nice uncluttered interface does.

Badgers icon because you can never be too cautious of badgers.

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WTF?

My existing Google account

is non-existent, and will remain in that state.

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So what?

I really don't get the big deal with this. If you dont want to be offered Google Services don't go to Google for your search needs. If you take the same guff to other areas it seems stupid:

Ford make cars, and have dealers which sell only Ford cars and Ford only parts. Also have insurance and finance plans through the Ford dealer. How is this not the same as what they are critising google.

If a person / company develop a good product that is widely used, why should this prevent them from expanding the product to improve user experience. I don't beleive it squeezes out competitors, just means they need to work harder to break into the market.

As for integration, I would like google to do a bit more, like allow direction strings straight from normal search to return a little map with the directions.

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Bad Analogy

Give Ford an 85% market share and add in that they make Top Gear, 5th Gear and own Channel 4 who now only show adverts for Ford cars. Then you've got a similar situation to Google.

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Re: Bad Analogy

This is also a bad analogy. It's more like they always have one Ford advert in every break. You know, sort of like how every channel offers now does an advert at the start and end of each break advertising its own programmes. Other people can still advertise, and you also get things like Sky advertising in the middle of ITV breaks, even though they know they're competing against the channel and that channel will use the two most commonly viewed adverts (I'm guessing on this because I suppose it's more likely that you'll be concentrating on the first 30 seconds after the programme stops and your attention is moved to something else, and also more likely to come back early after making a tea and catch the last advert) to promote its own show. Granted ITV have got very little share of the market, but what about, say, Sky Sports? Do they offer prime advertising space for their adverts?

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Stop

You might like to look deeper

Groklaw has covered Foundem's complaint before and backtracked their supporters. No prizes for guessing which name comes up (hiding in the bushes).

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Grenade

David vs Goliath...

In the court of law... it costs a lot of money to wage a lawsuit. If you don't have deep pockets (David), and you're fighting a company that has pockets so deep that they can not only keep this in courts for years, bleeding you dry, but on the off chance, you can survive, they can easily afford the court costs, fines, and a fat settlement check to you. (Goliath). Only its not Goliath, but an army of Goliaths.

There's an expression. An enemy of my enemy is my friend. So if it takes funding from 'friendly' Goliaths to help take down this army of Goliaths, you bet your sweet ass you're going to do it.

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Don't agree

Of course, this echoes the Microsoft antitrust case(s). And while I don't like MS, and don't really care one way or the other about Google, what this is about is punishing a company that has committed no crime other than be successful.

It's Google's web site - as far as I'm concerned they can do what the hell they like with it! A bit like MS - Nobody is forcing you to buy Windows. And if you DO then what right do you have to complain that it comes complete with a web browser, for example?

In the "real" world, it would be like telling Dyson to stop making vacuum cleaners because he's too successful at it and, DAMN, people keep buying the bloody things. So could he sell Hoovers and Electrolux's as well please?

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FAIL

"Nobody is forcing you to buy Windows."

Try buying a PC or laptop without some form of Windows preinstalled. There even was a time when Bill equated selling OS-less computers as an incitement to software piracy, because obviously noone in their right mind (or left) would be installing a non-Windows OS on them, and refusing to pay for crap that they'd not be using.

Yes, you can get a refund now. Which is a comparatively recent development. And of course you could build your own, which simply isn't for everyone, and somewhat hard to do if it's a laptop you need/want.

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I got my last PC for 400 quid, built

and with no OS on it. What's the problem here?

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Stop

it is illegal to bundled IE

Microsoft does not have a right to force all consumers to purchase IE.

In the US the appellate court decided that commingling code bwtween the OS and IE was in fact illegal. So you can not say that Microsoft has that right. The law says otherwise.

Of course, Google is not forcing anyone to click on Google services much less pay for them in order to use search. Microsoft does in fact do that illegally.

And the US DOJ plus the EU Commission want you to be forced to purchase IE despite it being illegal. It is clear that neither of those two authorities even understand the meaning of fair and open markets. They both had their chances and decided Microsoft should have yet another monopoly.

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Stop

no refund from Walmart

Despite the EULA you may not get a refund.

Recently I shopped at Walmart and the electronics manager did not even know about the wording of the EULA. He claimed complete ignorance. When I told him what it said, he simply refused to comply with it.

And that from a guy who bought his own computer from another outlet so he could avoid buying Vista.

Clearly Walmart refuses to honor the EULA with Microsoft's blessing.

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Headmaster

The problem is

that you appear to fail to see "telll someone to buld a PC to measure" as equal to "build your own" as opposed to "buy cardboard box at $retailer with manufacturer-made computer in it".

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Possible explanation

As a experiment I searched for a top end digital camera, Google didn't have a foundem link in the top 6 pages. Perhaps their problem is no one uses them so no one links to them so a poor page rank? I had never heard of them prior to this article.

As for the top results they where all links to reviews, bar a small clearly separate "shopping results" section that looks more like an advert than part of the results.

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Flame

Google is the good guy here

Q: Why is google dominant?

A: Because it gives us what we the users want when we search!

Q: Why do spammers complain to competition authorities about google?

A: Because google makes efforts to put its users needs ahead of the spammers desire to dominate.

Q: What would happen if the spammers were to win?

A: Google would lose its edge as a search engine, and the world would have to re-invent it or suffer.

p.s. I speak as someone who suffered from Yahoo's genuinely discriminatory behaviour in pre-google times when Yahoo had all the mindshare among journos, and hence among the vast numbers of newcomers to the 'net. Let us be glad that's consigned to history!

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Pint

@Nick

...

Q: What would happen if the spammers were to win?

A: Google would lose its edge as a search engine, and the world would have to re-invent it or suffer.

=========================

What, precisely, would the world suffer from ? A lack of trust in Advertising ? A little dose of that might be a good thing every few years ...

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Who cares....

Here's an interesting blog on why this whole thing is a non-issue:

http://searchengineland.com/the-incredible-stupidity-of-investigating-google-for-acting-like-a-search-engine-57268

If you type in a search for the best price for "x" then how is it wrong for Google to point you directly to those prices, cutting out the price comparison sites? If I wanted to do a price comparison then I'd either go direct to one of those sites, or google "Price Comparison Sites", which would return an unending list of such sites - even from Google.

Would you really expect to go into a shop and find them advertising other peoples' shops and prices. Most people use Google. Most other sites will struggle to get over that fact but it's just something they have to deal with.

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Re: Who cares...

You don't seem to get it. If Google were just a "search engine," it would return completely objective results based on user queries, and display advertisements chosen based on objective and balanced criteria. That way, the user gets (probably) what he asked for, and the advertisers get a chance for exposure.

However, when Google returns its own services as part of the results, they are no longer a mere "search engine"; they are now a service provider *directly competing* with all others included in the results.

That said, there is nothing inherently wrong with directly competing with others. The problem comes when *nobody* else has any idea what is the algorithm or the criteria that is used to determine results--except, of course, the owner of the engine: Google. This provides an unfair advantage over the competition. Clearly you can see the potential for abuse in that.

When the owner of the largest search engine is also the primary advertiser and provider of services in its results, excludes its competitors from first hand information on internal operations that directly affect such results, and controls a rather large portion of the market; this forms the essence of a monopoly "trust" (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trust_%28monopoly%29>).

-dZ.

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Grenade

Re: DZ-Jay

There is no legal definition (today at least, unless you've seen otherwise in which case please enlighten us) as to what a "search engine" is, especially vs. a "service provider". Your definition of search engine is:

"return completely objective results based on user queries, and display advertisements chosen based on objective and balanced criteria"

To me that relegates all search providers to living in the altavista/old-school-yahoo days. What you're not saying though, unless I missed it somewhere, is that this should apply to all search providers. If I go out to Bing and type in CSCO a Bing Finance blurb pops up top, if I type in an address a Bing Maps blurb pops up top. Why is it not OK for Google (the #1 search provider) to do this when it, apparently is OK for the #2 search provider Bing to do it? If "Search Providers" and "Search Engines" have to be the same thing, and have to "provide a completely level playing field for all content" then someone needs to write a law saying so, and the rule should apply to ALL search providers. Anything else is making the rules up as you go along.

My definition of search engine (perhaps more aptly described as search provider) is more along the lines of: give me what I'm looking for as quickly and easily as possible. I expect Google, or Bing, or whoever to give me the best information the quickest and, to be honest, if it's what I'm looking for I'd rather it be on the instant results page than on a secondary site. We're talking about the search results on their website that I requested, it's about me... not Foundem. If Foundem, or Amazon, or Bing provides better product search results I'll start using them sure, but that's for me to decide.

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@AC

First, let me clear up a few things. I do not suggest that Google should be singled out because they are Google, but because of their dominant position in the market. This is what anti-trust laws were designed to do: to prevent abuse of the dominant player or players in a specific market. The potential from abuse comes from the fact that they are dominant and ostensibly unassailable in their market, and that their actions may indeed influence the market directly or indirectly; even if such actions are perfectly acceptable for any other player without as much influence.

Second, regarding the definition of a "search engine," I base my statement on what a traditionally search engine was understood to be. You are right, this definition harks back to the days of yore when Altavista roamed the plains with the dinosaurs.

That said, I agree with you that search engines have morphed into something different, and arguably more useful. This is precisely my point, that although they changed their business models and service focus, Google and their ilk still want to operate in relative obscurity as if they were mere "old school" search engines.

On the one hand, Google claims that they are mere aggregators and conduits to content, and that they do not curate nor create such content, therefore they are not liable for its semantic accuracy, topics, or expressions. On the other hand, they keep adding services that interact directly with the end-user, composed of information that, although may have been gathered from external sources, was actually edited* and filtered subjectively by them.

So, which is it? Is the resulting content theirs or not? Is it curated or merely aggregated? Is it edited? Obviously a lot of people, like you, expect Google to "give them what they want" directly. However, you must admit that this is mostly a recent development in the mainstream; traditionally, Google was expected not to answer questions but to return "stuff from the intarwebz."

Regardless of this, what about advertisers position? Should they expect that they are bidding for ranking based on the unbiased results, or are they actually competing directly with Google? This is important, because I should not expect them to continue paying Google for the exposure, if such exposure is always guaranteed to go first to Google.

Imagine if I went to an independent car dealer and asked them to put a poster for my specialty car on their window, and that I were bidding for the most prominent window placement against other small car manufacturers. Would my surprised be justified if I ever discovered that the "independent" car dealer had a direct contract with Toyota and will always give the most prominent window position to them, regardless of how much money me and the others were paying for the same position? Would it be any more fair if the car dealer responded with something like "it's OK, we can't tell you how we pick the winner, but I can promise you it's fair. Even if it looks like Toyota always shows up."

Ultimately, all that I am suggesting is more transparency on the part of Google (and other search engines too). Such transparency may indeed prove that the model of "auctioning auctioneer" or "competing partner" is as an unsustainable one, and as absurd an oxymoron as it sounds.

-dZ.

* Note that here "edited" is used in its standard definition of "to supervise or direct the preparation of content; to collect, prepare, and arrange materials for publication.

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FAIL

not a level playing field...

Seems certain that it's not a 'level playing field' and more could be done, but...

white lists: these would be sites that google trusts not to spam; who is easiest for them to put on that list? sure, depends on your definition but...

"Unique monthly US visitors to Google Maps and MapQuest" : well, yes, looks like the graph crosses about the same time I started using google maps more than streetmaps uk because yes it was already on the page

"When Google points to video with Universal Search, for instance, a vast majority comes from YouTube" : sorry, where the f else are you expecting to find video these days?

crikey people, too many of these are too easy to knock down with the 'algorithmic' argument. hope you're better in court.

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Grenade

But you just made the prosecution's case.

Looking for a video?

Who owns the top site?

Who provides advertisements on said site?

Who has the deep pockets to withstand the lawsuits from the companies where infringing material was stolen and downloaded? Where they can withstand the costs wearing down the opponents to where they get what they want and the opponents can lick their wounds.

Rumor has it Google wants Groupon. Not that Groupon is a big deal, but its another market Google can dominate with ease.

Like I said, you use your dominance in one market and expand and become dominant in another, then another, then another...

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People missing the point

Whats at stake is *not* whether Google returns what you asked for or whether they remove spam from the search lists.

What is at stake is that a company with a dominant market share in online Search (~80-90%), is then using that position to push other services - if the system is gamed so that a preferential Google partner is always at the top for a shopping search, that would be abusive behaviour.

This is exactly the same as the MS case - you have a dominant operating system and you're using that position to force everyone to have your browser.

It's not the same as a Ford dealer being forced to sell another make. Ford's market share is 15-20%, it's not dominant in any way, shape or form, hence no need to investigate.

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Stop

not the same

Microsoft forces you to purchase IE.

Google does not tie its search results to other products. No money is involved either. With Microsoft money IS involved. YOU PAY FOR IE.

And that forces every other competitor to do without a revenue model for browsers.

I note that the EU Commission condones Microsoft's illegal conduct. So too does the US DOJ. Both want you to be forced to first PURCHASE IE.

It is an illegal foreced sale. YOU PAY MONEY.

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WTF?

No They Don't

They give it away, the whole premise of the Anti-Trust suit was that because it was being given away it discouraged the user (depending upon their skill level) to investigate other browsers and choose them instead. Hence the browser selection screen which allows the choice of a browser.

Even though the EU found against Microsoft, I find it baffling, its like Buying a Ford Car and asking for a GM engine diagnostics kit on it.

In this instance Microsoft make the OS and the means to connect to the internet, and give you a way of looking at it why this causes people problems i don't know

What amazes me is the way people complain about Microsoft and then Gloss over the true closed environment culprit i.e. Apple

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Boffin

Re: Parsifal

I'm not sure on the EU law which is based on anti-competitive behavior, but the US case was based on bundling - which is the practice of forcing the purchase of an unrelated product (and by "purchase" it does not matter if there is a charge or not) with an established monopoly product.

The Microsoft IE case was a classic case of monopoly abuse where the monopoly product (Windows) was bundled with a previously separate and unrelated product (the Internet Browser) and overnight essentially took over this new market. At the time virtually no one - that I knew at least - thought it made any sense for Microsoft to make the browser part of the OS any more than it made sense to make Outlook part of the OS, the line between OS and Application was pretty clear for most observers.

One of the arguments here against Google is that by including stock quotes, maps, whatever as blurbs at the top (which is exactly the same as Yahoo and Bing do) they are bundling. I have trouble with that given that this is common practice by all the major search providers (haven't/can't check Baidu or w/e the Chinese search engine of choice is so there might be one exception) and if one search provider is not allowed to do this it would follow that all search providers would be restricted from this practice. This is what was previously described by one of the other commenters as "[Google getting sued for behaving as a search engine]" - they are trying to prioritize the most useful information information up top so people will use their service more... it is a side effect that people will start using MapQuest and other "competitors" to Google less and less, but if this is truly a violation of anticompetitive/antitrust legislation remains to be seen *IMO*

The second argument here is that Google is using search result and ad quality rankings to squish competitors - this is the major allegation from Foundem. This one will be difficult to prove/disprove without seeing inside Google's black box, but given the very little exposure I have to search optimization, I find it very hard to believe that Google bothers to intentionally downrank sites... although I can readily imagine them constantly tweaking their algorithms to smack down crap sites that have gamed the system and that their users (who should be their main focus after all) have not found useful. If users are never clicking on link 1, or if they do click on it immediately come back and click on link 2 (or any other number of easily discernible scenarios) it's not too difficult to identify aberrant rankings, and then it's just a matter of identifying how they gamed the system and adjusting accordingly. Some would say that's anticompetitive... to me it sounds more like search optimization. Of course, without seeing behind the scenes nobody really knows what's going on so it's all he-said/she-said.

Anyway, there are a lot of different arguments being thrown around (Red Herring Award goes to Ian for invoking Youtube and Copyright infringement for no apparent reason) so it's important not to oversimplify. Cheers :)

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Which makes me think that...

Google isn't that stupid. Maybe they would even be kosher with an "independent expert" being tasked to poke around their algorithms to see how they work and report back to the EC on their findings.

The only problems with that is that they do risk the expert coming back and telling the world that their algorithms are about as "honest" as Bill Clinton when asked about sex, or that the said expert gets an "offer they can't refuse" from someone with deep pockets and a lustful look who happens to be wearing a "bing suit."

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Stop

Why is it that every site that complains about goog's search rules is terrible

I've just spent 2mins on foundem. For a laugh I decided to compare flights - search box doesn't recognise city names only airport codes, and only showed 2 airlines who have a codeshare anyway.

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Flame

In terms of Google spin...

"Pressed on this, Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich reiterated that Google is interested in providing users with the best answer, and he indicated that with Universal Search,"

But we all know that the 'best' answer is err subjective.

What's best for Google is what's best for the public, right? I mean this is true if you consider that Google is the dominant search company. Its actually a monopoly however until a court judge declares it a monopoly it isn't, so rules to protect consumers from monopolies from abusing their position aren't enforceable.

So the PR Flacky is telling the truth as Google perceives it. Competition? What competition? This is why when Google enters any new market, they have the upper hand, regardless of the rest of that industry players.

The flame is not for El Reg, but the fact that it took the EU so long to investigate, this.

The US won't because Google's former PR Flack is now in the White House influencing Obama's choices. (You know the guy... he got outed when Buzz showed he was having 'out of channel' communications with his friends back at Google...)

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"What's best for Google is what's best for the public, right?"

No, the reverse.

Google's success is down to giving the users (that's us, when we search) what they want.

What's best for the public is what's best for Google. Because if Google ever loses sight of that it becomes just another Yahoo.

There's a whole industry devoted to putting useless crap between users and what they want. It's called SEO. Google is right to resist it.

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I hate comparison websites

It used to be the case that if you wanted to find out something about a particular product - and in particular tech kit - and find a few places you can buy said item, all you had to do is tap in the name of the product into google, and it would find you the manufacturers website page, and several shop websites selling the item.

Now, you are lucky to get the manufacturers page, the rest of the page is full of these bullshit comparison websites. If google are now manipulating these comparison websites out of the first page, then well played, thanks muchly.

Comparison websites typically only show links to companies with whom they have pre-arranged to take a cut of the purchase cost, so in effect, they are showing me the companies who I should probably avoid, since they have a built in bilk to cover paying the comparison website. Fuck. That.

Also, IIRC google maps came after mapquest. The biggest difference between mapquest/streetmap and google maps was that google maps was a wondrous, draggable, zoomable, auto loading experience. The others were crappy little webpages showing a 9 map square grid, and you could click one of the exterior cells to move the map in that direction, resulting in a page load.

Once I had used them both, I never went back to mapquest/streetmap.

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Stop

don't all search engines do likewise?

Does not Bing post up information from Microsoft? Or, does it send you out to a Google site?

And what about Yahoo? Does their top site spin you out to Microsoft or Yahoo Financial? Or, Google?

Just because Google is dominant does not mean it can not provide instant answers under circumstances that searchers might want them.

But, most importantly Google is not making you pay money. Microsoft makes you pay money for bundled products. Products you may not want such as a browser or media player. But, you are illegally forced to pay for them.

And, the EU Commission and the US DOJ illegally condones Microsoft. So what do you expect them to do with Google?

Both could have required Microsoft to sell separate products separately. And they should have done so. But, they both wanted Microsoft to force the sale upon consumers. Consumers pay money for Microsoft products.

YOU paid money for IE.

So unless you do not have a copy of IE you can not complain about Google.

And that eliminates Microsoft, Microsoft employees and all of those individuals who claim to be a consumer but are really just promoting Microsoft products.

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besides, can't you do this if you don't wanna see google responses?

Add -site:google.com to your search.

Who knows, maybe you can set that as a preference if your knickers are so twisted about google that you are contemplating using bing :P

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Pirate

Every company does this and map quest sucks

Of course Google will try to favor itself duh but I have dealt with both MapQuest and Google in correcting maps and I must say Google is much more responsive than map quest. Google responded to me within 72 hours and told me i was right and with their next update the map would change 2 month later it changed I sent the same thing to MapQuest and have never gotten a reply. I was using a private mail server for the MapQuest request.

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