EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, is reportedly considering filing a complaint with the United States Federal Trade Commission over Google’s new “Search Plus Your World” features.
In an interview with the LA Times, EPIC’s executive director Marc Rotenberg said the group may file a complaint. The group has done so in the past, with regards to Google’s inclusion of YouTube videos in search results.
EPIC has put up the following statement on its site, citing concerns over Search Plus Your World:
Google is changing the results displayed by its search engine to include data from its social network, such as photos or blog posts made by Google+ users, as well as the public Internet. Although data from a user’s Google+ contacts is not displayed publicly, Google’s changes make the personal data of users more accessible. Users can opt out of seeing personalized search results, but cannot opt out of having their information found through Google search. Also, Google’s changes come at a time when the company is facing increased scrutiny over whether it distorts search results by giving preference to its own content. Recently, the Senate held a hearing on Google’s use of its dominance in the search market to suppress competition, and EPIC urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google’s use of Youtube search rankings to give preferential treatment to its own video content over non-Google content. Google has also acknowledged that the FTC is investigating whether Google uses its dominance in the search field to inhibit competition in other areas.
There has been a lot debate around the new features, which make Google+ much more a part of Google Search. You can read more about Twitter’s public opposition to the features here. In a nutshell, Twitter thinks the changes make Twitter content less accessible to users. I don’t really see how this changes things in that regard. Twitter content has been less accessible since Twitter and Google failed to renew their realtime search/Twitter firehose deal last year (which I do also see as a negative thing).
Twitter and Facebook are both keeping Google from certain data, which Google would be able to use to improve as a search engine. Some argue, however that Google can get enough public data from Twitter and Facebook to work into the new offerings, at least to some extent. All of this is true.
On the one hand, Google could, for example recommend Twitter accounts and Facebook pages for celebrities, the way it is doing with Google+ profiles. On the other hand, Google doesn’t have the data from Twitter and Facebook to deliver the kind of personalized results it can offer via Google+. It’s easier for Google to improve the user experience, at least in theory, when they can give you any data that that is available (personalized data). Google+, which is really just an extension of the Google account itself, is Google’s way of trying to deliver this stuff, supplemented with other public data from places like Flickr, Quora, WordPress, etc.
Danny Sullivan posted this video of Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt talking about the lack of Facebook and Twitter data:
Part of Search Plus Your World is the addition of a special section for “People and Pages on Google+”. When I search for “music” I see profiles for Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and Busta Rhymes – Google profiles. Nothing but Google profiles in that section. However, the top organic result I get is for Yahoo Music. Not even Google Music.
I see the new features as more of a relevancy problem than an antitrust problem. If Google is taking what it knows about me, to personalize my search results, it should recognize that I use Google Music (I don’t use Yahoo Music), and that I don’t give a crap about Britney Spears, Mariah Carey or Busta Rhymes) – at least not as much of a crap as it would take to deem them worthy of that kind of placement for such a broad term. In fact, I would argue that my results would be much better for the user (me) if Google actually tapped its own Google Music property to understand the music I like. I don’t need Facebook pages or Twitter accounts for Britney, Mariah or Busta either.
Part of the reason I use multiple products from Google is because I expect there to be integration. It’s often disappointing when that integration is lacking. It makes things less usable. If I’m signed in to my Google account, I want easy access to content that’s related to my Google account. If I want things from Facebook or Twitter, I know where to look.
If you are signed into Google, you are signed into your Google account. You are signed into Google+. When you’re not signed in, well, that’s a different ballgame. One thing that is a bit iffy here, is that Google said in is announcement that Search Plus Your World would be for users that are signed in. The personal stuff is, but the People and Places stuff that highlights Google+ accounts still appears when the user is signed out.
That could be an issue.