There’s a very interesting discussion going on about whether or not the government should regulate search results. This began last week, when the New York Times ran an editorial titled, "The Google Algorithm", which suggests one way "to ensure the editorial policy guiding Google’s tweaks is solely intended to improve the quality of the results and not to help Google’s other businesses," is to "give some government commission the power to look at those tweaks."
Should the government regulate search results? Share your thoughts.
Another way, the piece suggests could be for Google to "explain with some specified level of detail the editorial policy that guides its tweaks."
The piece was enough to not only get a response from long-time search industry reporter Danny Sullivan, via a clever, satirical look at the NYT piece itself (giving the publication something of a mirror to look into), but it was also enough to get Google to respond.
Google’s VP of Search Product and User Experience, Marissa Mayer wrote a piece for the Financial Times, which was reprinted on Google’s Public Policy Blog (Google also thought enough of Sullivan’s response to link to it).
"What is fair in terms of ordering?" asks Mayer. "An alphabetical listing? Equally, new results will need to be incorporated – new web pages, but also new media types such as tweets or audio streams. Without competition and experimentation between companies, how could the rules keep up? There is no doubt that this will stifle the advance of the science around search engines."
"Abuse would be a further problem," continues Mayer. "If search engines were forced to disclose their algorithms and not just the signals they use, or, worse, if they had to use a standardised algorithm, spammers would certainly use that knowledge to game the system, making the results suspect."
"But the strongest arguments against rules for ‘neutral search’ is that they would make the ranking of results on each search engine similar, creating a strong disincentive for each company to find new, innovative ways to seek out the best answers on an increasingly complex web," she adds.
To the NYT’s credit, the piece did say that "Google provides an incredibly valuable service, and the government must be careful not to stifle its ability to innovate." But it’s hard to see how any government intervention wouldn’t stifle innovation.
What are your thoughts on the idea of government regulation of search results? Discuss in the comments.