[IRP] [governance] 'search neutrality' to go with net neutrality

Michael Gurstein gurstein
Tue Dec 29 17:03:46 EET 2009

McTim and all,
I have immense respect for Lauren Weinstein and particularly his work with
the Privacy Forum and I have no expert knowledge in the underlying argument
either of the original article by Raff or the article pointed to in
Weinstein's piece but clearly Weinstein has misread the Raff article (or
I've missed something important... 
The Raff article is pointing to some significant risks from the dominance of
one company (Google) as the primary interface with the world wide web of
knowledge/information... Surely a significant (potential) issue in itself...

The rather (what seems to me) tenuous links of the Raff article to the
anti-NN argument are hardly sufficient to dismiss the basic question that
Raff is asking about the need for a policy/regulatory assessment of the
significance of Google's market dominance in this core area of Internet
development and value.

-----Original Message-----
From: McTim [mailto:dogwallah at gmail.com] 
Sent: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 6:41 AM
To: governance at lists.cpsr.org; Parminder
Cc: irp
Subject: Re: [governance] 'search neutrality' to go with net neutrality

see below for a different perspective, one which I agree with for the most
                "Search Neutrality" and Propaganda Deluxe"


"A name indicates what we seek. An address indicates where it is. A route
indicates how we get there."  Jon Postel

On Tue, Dec 29, 2009 at 12:32 AM, Parminder <parminder at itforchange.net>

See below an interesting article on how the company that seeks to 'organise
the world's knowledge' really may be doing it. It is time we called for
complete disclosure in public interest of search logics of Google and other
search engine, which truly are now a (the?) principal source of information
and knowledge globally. Also a point to ponder for those who think
everything, including controlling excesses of market power, can be done
bottom-up and may not need policy regimes. 



Search, but You May Not Find 

Published: December 27, 2009 

AS we become increasingly dependent on the Internet, we need to be
increasingly concerned about how it is regulated. The Federal Communications
Commission has proposed "network neutrality" rules, which would prohibit
Internet service providers from discriminating against or charging premiums
for certain services or applications on the Web. The commission is correct
that ensuring equal access to the infrastructure of the Internet is vital,
but it errs in directing its regulations only at service providers like AT&T
and Comcast. 

Today, search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's new Bing have
become the Internet's gatekeepers, and the crucial role they play in
directing users to Web sites means they are now as essential a component of
its infrastructure as the physical network itself. The F.C.C. needs to look
beyond network neutrality and include "search neutrality": the principle
that search engines should have no editorial policies other than that their
results be comprehensive, impartial and based solely on relevance.

The need for search neutrality is particularly pressing because so much
market power lies in the hands of one company: Google. With 71 percent of
the United States search market (and 90 percent in Britain), Google's
dominance of both search and search advertising gives it overwhelming
control. Google's revenues exceeded $21 billion last year, but this pales
next to the hundreds of billions of dollars of other companies' revenues
that Google controls indirectly through its search results and sponsored

One way that Google exploits this control is by imposing covert "penalties"
that can strike legitimate and useful Web sites, removing them entirely from
its search results or placing them so far down the rankings that they will
in all likelihood never be found. For three years, my company's vertical
search and price-comparison site, Foundem, was effectively "disappeared"
from the Internet in this way. 

Another way that Google exploits its control is through preferential
placement. With the introduction in 2007 of what it calls "universal
search," Google began promoting its own services at or near the top of its
search results, bypassing the algorithms it uses to rank the services of
others. Google now favors its own price-comparison results for product
queries, its own map results for geographic queries, its own news results
for topical queries, and its own YouTube results for video queries. And
Google's stated plans for universal search make it clear that this is only
the beginning.

Because of its domination of the global search market and ability to
penalize competitors while placing its own services at the top of its search
results, Google has a virtually unassailable competitive advantage. And
Google can deploy this advantage well beyond the confines of search to any
service it chooses. Wherever it does so, incumbents are toppled, new
entrants are suppressed and innovation is imperiled.

Google's treatment of Foundem stifled our growth and constrained the
development of our innovative search technology. The preferential placement
of Google Maps helped it unseat MapQuest from its position as America's
leading online mapping service virtually overnight. The share price of
TomTom, a maker of navigation systems, has fallen by some 40 percent in the
weeks since the announcement of Google's free turn-by-turn satellite
navigation service. And RightMove, Britain's leading real-estate portal,
lost 10 percent of its market value this month on the mere rumor that Google
planned a real-estate search service here. 

Without search neutrality rules to constrain Google's competitive advantage,
we may be heading toward a bleakly uniform world of Google Everything -
Google Travel, Google Finance, Google Insurance, Google Real Estate, Google
Telecoms and, of course, Google Books. 

Some will argue that Google is itself so innovative that we needn't worry.
But the company isn't as innovative as it is regularly given credit for.
Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Groups, Google Docs, Google Analytics,
Android and many other Google products are all based on technology that
Google has acquired rather than invented. 

Even AdWords and AdSense, the phenomenally efficient economic engines behind
Google's meteoric success, are essentially borrowed inventions: Google
acquired AdSense by purchasing Applied Semantics in 2003; and AdWords,
though developed by Google, is used under license from its inventors,

Google was quick to recognize the threat to openness and innovation posed by
the market power of Internet service providers, and has long been a leading
proponent of net neutrality. But it now faces a difficult choice. Will it
embrace search neutrality as the logical extension to net neutrality that
truly protects equal access to the Internet? Or will it try to argue that
discriminatory market power is somehow dangerous in the hands of a cable or
telecommunications company but harmless in the hands of an overwhelmingly
dominant search engine?

The F.C.C. is now inviting public comment on its proposed network neutrality
rules, so there is still time to persuade the commission to expand the scope
of the regulations. In particular, it should ensure that the principles of
transparency and nondiscrimination apply to search engines as well as to
service providers. The alternative is an Internet in which innovation can be
squashed at will by an all-powerful search engine. 

Adam Raff is a co-founder of Foundem, an Internet technology firm. 

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