Google Report Dismisses Competitors’ Complaints of Search BiasBy: Drew Bowling - May 15, 2012
Google continues its offensive against the antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission with another internally-commissioned report released today. The report, which follows a different one from last week that argued Google’s right to free speech, pokes holes through all of recommendations from Google’s competitors that were offered to reduce the alleged bias in Google search results.
The report, “Proposed Remedies for Search Bias: ‘Search Neutrality’ and Other Proposals in the Google Inquiry,” by Marvin Ammori and Luke Pelican, managers of the Ammori Group law firm, systematically rebukes the remedies proffered by competitors like Microsoft, Expedia, Yelp, and Foundem that focus on issues like search neutrality; discontinuing Universal Search and returning to the “ten blue links” of old; forbidding Google from crawling and using other’s web content; limiting Google’s ability to make acquisitions; and requiring continuous, numerous disclosures in addition to Google’s extant transparency reports. After evaluating each of the recommendations, the authors conclude that
the cures proposed by the competitors are worse than Google’s alleged disease. The proposed remedies might benefit the short-term economic interests of Google’s competitors … but benefiting competitors is not the goal of antitrust law.
At the heart of the report is Google’s argument that it is only trying to provide the highest quality search results. One instance where Google defends its practices regards Universal Search, which has been around since 2007. Prior to the implementations of Universal Search, one page of search results from Google would present ten links to webpages. Universal Search changed that, however, and started to provide users with images, news links, and videos in addition to the ten links. Google’s competitors decried this practice, saying that it prioritized Google’s own products such as Google Maps and Google Places over competing specialized search providers, like MapQuest or Yelp. Adding to this is likely the Search Plus Your World practice of including Google+ content in search results.
Google argues that the only thing its search results favor is consumer demand and makes the fairly valid argument that consumers likely want original content, as opposed to “sites consisting of merely lists of links to other content.” Google maintains that “its users understandably go to Google for answers, not for links to sites consisting of additional links to answers.” Finally, Google, harking back to last week’s report, reaffirms that it has the right to dictate search results.
The report summarizes all of the proposed remedies for search neutrality as hapless and half-baked, saying that they would “cause more harm than good for consumers, for competition generally, and for high-tech innovations.”
The full report is below.
The well-timed release of the Ammori report with last week’s right to free speech report suggest that Google’s preparing for the worst case scenario when it comes to the FTC inquiry. On the one hand, Google is probably right to preemptively investigate the matters for which it has been accused of antitrust practices so it will already have a head start in any litigation. On the other hand, though, research commissioned by a company that only serves to support said company is always suspect to confirmation bias and can hardly been understood as objective.
Regardless of the legitimacy of the report’s commissioners, the paper does reiterate the basic crux of the FTC investigation: determining whether Google’s practices have adverse effects for consumers. In an email to WPN, Ammori wrote, “As the goal of antitrust law is to benefit competition, innovation, and consumer welfare, not to benefit specific competitors, we conclude that adopting the remedies would be both bad law and bad policy.”
Google may be right to pursue, somewhat aggressively, these legal aspects for the sake of setting up its defense against an FTC investigation. Then again, it could have an adverse effect if Google protests too much.