How Google Skewed Search Results
March 19, 2015 11:23 PM   Subscribe

The Wall Street Journal reports on how Google favored its own shopping, travel services over rivals, and the U.S. antitrust probe of Google:
The 160-page critique, which was supposed to remain private but was inadvertently disclosed in an open-records request, concluded that Google’s “conduct has resulted—and will result—in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.”
Is Google an unelected superpower? A truly sinister social networking platform could manipulate public opinion even more effectively. (Previously)
posted by Little Dawn (68 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
The New York Times also has a report that isn't locked behind a subscription wall.
posted by Little Dawn at 11:34 PM on March 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


Focus on the User is mentioned in the NYTimes article (I wouldn't know what's in the WSJ because I couldn't access it). Focus on the User a site (and app) that demonstrates ways in which Google places its own content above more relevant content. I hadn't heard of it before reading the article, but from what I've seen so far, it does make Google look pretty bad.
posted by teponaztli at 12:02 AM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


The WSJ articles are readable through links posted at the Drudge Report, and a WSJ blog post with excerpts from the FTC report is freely accessible:
The report said Google was “in the unique position of being able to make or break any web-based business.”
posted by Little Dawn at 12:03 AM on March 20, 2015


The WSJ articles are readable through links posted at the Drudge Report

Oh god that would be worse than linking to the Daily Mail.
posted by JHarris at 12:08 AM on March 20, 2015 [19 favorites]


I've been setting up browsers on a lot of new machines lately, and at the moment outside of Chrome a very weird thing has transpired where Google is very much not the default search engine anymore, so I'm seeing a lot of surprise Yahoo and Bing results, which I guess is good for search diversity I guess... But boy are they garbage by comparison, with a lot more crap rising to the top.
posted by Artw at 12:11 AM on March 20, 2015 [19 favorites]


Agreed. I tried using Bing for a while, and it's amazing how every search I did I'd end up doing the same one in Google, and Google would always present better results. I'm getting to where I wish other engines would step up their game, because it's becoming more and more evident that the Goog is trying to sweep that whole "don't be evil" thing under the rug.
posted by JHarris at 12:28 AM on March 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


Come on people, give DuckDuckGo a try...
posted by Sintram at 12:50 AM on March 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


Is Google an unelected superpower?

Superpower: for sure. Unelected? Grey area.
posted by flabdablet at 12:59 AM on March 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also, I'm sick and tired of seeing lazy journos misquote Google's original motto as "do no evil".

"Don't be evil" has so much more wiggle room.
posted by flabdablet at 1:01 AM on March 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


After the wage suppression conspiracy, I think we can pretty much forget all variations of that motto. No way to brush that one off as misbehaving underlings, bad apples, or an unintentional mistake.
posted by ryanrs at 1:05 AM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Eventually Google, Amazon and Walmart will be all that's left. Then they'll merge and America will be rebranded as the United States of Amawaloogle.

I haven't noticed any obvious political bias to Google... but Yahoo is sure a different story. The right wing skew on the Yahoo main page can get really gross. They've backed off a little in the last few months, but for a while there the headlines were all about MILLIONS UNPREPARED FOR OBAMACARE TAX HIT and GOP STRUGGLING AS OBAMA REFUSES TO COOPERATE. It was Fox News-level grossness, and I kept waiting for Salon or The Daily Show or somebody to call them on their BS but nobody ever did.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:07 AM on March 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


To read any paywalled WSJ article you should be able to paste the headline of the article into Google and the resulting link will take you straight to the full version. It's a thing the WSJ does to encourage traffic via Google.
posted by awfurby at 1:30 AM on March 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Google is still huge, but the danger for the company is the rising use of dedicated apps for search.

And Facebook just launched essentially free public internet connectivity in the Philippines, a country with 100 million people.
posted by Nevin at 2:15 AM on March 20, 2015


I think we can pretty much forget all variations of that motto

I am quite convinced that there are people high up in Google who genuinely believe that their every morally questionable decision serves a higher good.

Give me immortality, or give me wealth!
posted by flabdablet at 2:36 AM on March 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Eventually Google, Amazon and Walmart will be all that's left. Then they'll merge and America will be rebranded as the United States of Amawaloogle.

Googwalmazon, surely, or maybe Walmazoogle
posted by kokaku at 2:41 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Needs an extra syllable to give it bounce and volume. Who wouldn't want to live in Walamazoogle?
posted by flabdablet at 2:57 AM on March 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


They still all sound like towns in Australia.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:11 AM on March 20, 2015 [48 favorites]


Am I the only one here who's experienced a continuous degradation in the usefulness of Google search results over the past several years? It's very noticeable. Is it because of this content-favoritism?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:30 AM on March 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


And Facebook just launched essentially free public internet connectivity in the Philippines

You mean internet.org? Does MetaFilter work in that version of the internet? (it's not on the list of supported web sites).
posted by effbot at 3:49 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Welcome to Net Neutrality: Corporate Edition.
posted by flabdablet at 4:27 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I Got A Girl In Walamazoogle.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:29 AM on March 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


DuckDuckGo results are from Bing, so apart from their great attitude towards user privacy they're not really contributing to search diversity.
posted by grubby at 4:40 AM on March 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Given internet time, I expect to be alive to see the end of this trajectory.
posted by infini at 4:45 AM on March 20, 2015


Come on people, give DuckDuckGo a try...

I did give it a try, but the feature of Google I use the most is the Search tools->Timeframe function. Last time I tried DuckDuckGo, I couldn't filter the search results for hits from the last month.
posted by Pendragon at 4:45 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Shit, it'd be awful if google could manipulate US elections. I mean, they do so well now.
posted by pompomtom at 5:09 AM on March 20, 2015


I am quite convinced that there are people high up in Google who genuinely believe that their every morally questionable decision serves a higher good.

You've just described every dev floor in existence.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:24 AM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Eventually Google, Amazon and Walmart will be all that's left. Then they'll merge and America will be rebranded as the United States of Amawaloogle.

Have we forgotten the Googlezon already? That movie was from 2004, predicting what 2014 would be like. There's plenty to laugh at (Friendster?!) but some of it's spot on.
posted by chavenet at 5:26 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


But boy are they garbage by comparison, with a lot more crap rising to the top.

But, hey, it's honest crap.
posted by eriko at 5:32 AM on March 20, 2015


Am I the only one here who's experienced a continuous degradation in the usefulness of Google search results over the past several years? It's very noticeable. Is it because of this content-favoritism?

There was a while where Google results were really terrible, all full of obvious content farm stuff; they kept it that way for so long that it was obvious that they had figured out that bad results were more profitable than good results. Then they changed the algorithms to at least partially remove the content farm stuff and things were much better, though I agree that there has since been slippage in quality, with more obvious favoritism in the results.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:58 AM on March 20, 2015


Give me immortality, or give me wealth!

Flabdablet has just composed the shahada of Silicon Valley techno-transcendentalism.
posted by vorpal bunny at 6:17 AM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I would modify the Flabdablet's shahada a bit to, "Give me eternal youth, or give me wealth!" It is the mythology student in me that wants a more airtight request.
posted by jadepearl at 6:21 AM on March 20, 2015 [7 favorites]




So the FTC has decided that antitrust is a thing again, and they're going after Google? The one with actual functional competitors that I can get to by typing in a different URL? Not the local communications monopolies or retail monopolies you have to move or drive several hours to avoid?
posted by phooky at 6:26 AM on March 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


DuckDuckGo results are from Bing

I always thought DuckDuckGo was shit. I could never for the life of me figure out why everyone was raving about a search engine that was worse than Google.

At least now I understand why it's worse.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:12 AM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


DuckDuckGo does pull from bing. But it pulls from hundreds of other sources as well and then tries to answer your query and intelligently rank results while removing spam and content farm material. It isn't just copy/pasting results.

I started using it because I got really frustrated with personalized search results in Google, especially the kinds of forced Google+ integration stuff discussed in Focus on the User. Google is definitely superior for many searches, however. I find it nearly always better for programming and tech related questions, for example.
posted by congen at 7:50 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


The reason to use DDG is the !g prefix which does a google search without landing you in google surveillance. Lots of other useful bang prefixes, I only use a few.
posted by telstar at 8:01 AM on March 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Focus on the User a site (and app) that demonstrates ways in which Google places its own content above more relevant content.

Their browser extension appears to only be available for Chrome.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:03 AM on March 20, 2015


Back to the content of the fine WSJ article, it's very disturbing. I used to work at Google, and while I left many years ago I still respect the company and like to think I have some special understanding of how people at the company think. The WSJ story as reported though, well, fuck them.

They key thing isn't just that Google's ranking algorithm favored Google sites. It's that it did so despite Google having evidence its own results weren't as good. "Marissa Mayer, who was then a Google vice president, said Google didn’t use click-through rates to determine the ranking for its own specialized-search sites, because they would rank too low, according to the staff report. ... Instead, Google would “automatically boost” its own sites for certain specialized searches that otherwise would favor rivals, the FTC found." It sounds pretty awful.
posted by Nelson at 8:30 AM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Sintram: Come on people, give DuckDuckGo a try...

I would, except I can't verbify it easily, so I'll stick with Bing {hamburger}
posted by filthy light thief at 8:43 AM on March 20, 2015


Eventually Google, Amazon and Walmart will be all that's left. Then they'll merge and America will be rebranded as the United States of Amawaloogle.

Googwalmazon, surely, or maybe Walmazoogle


I think they'd go with a complete name change - perhaps "Buy 'n' Large".
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:14 AM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is a big deal. Trust is essential to Google's core ad business because there must be a clear advantage to buying something instead of cultivating organic search. Basically G has decided that they can take the hit to that business because of their dominant spot and that's why it's an antitrust matter.

As I always say: Stop pretending it's a charity or a government agency. Google exists to sell you things. Period.
posted by mobunited at 9:28 AM on March 20, 2015


Kirth Gerson: "Am I the only one here who's experienced a continuous degradation in the usefulness of Google search results over the past several years? It's very noticeable. Is it because of this content-favoritism?"

There is a real weapon and defense dynamic happening with search and SEO. Sadly I can't see how search will win in the long run. I mean how is a search provider supposed to deal with actual (shitty) content produced by actual people in a distributed way (EG: wikihow). How to winnow Sturgeons Law and get the quality to rise to the top. Long term without the development of true AI I don't think it can be done.
posted by Mitheral at 9:32 AM on March 20, 2015


So the FTC has decided that antitrust is a thing again, and they're going after Google? The one with actual functional competitors that I can get to by typing in a different URL? Not the local communications monopolies or retail monopolies you have to move or drive several hours to avoid?

Well, yeah. Local communications monopolies are things that are well-understood because they've been around for decades, and we already won the battle against them after AT&T was broken up back before the turn of the century.

Microsoft and Google are newfangled things that nobody understands what they do. Something with computers?
posted by qcubed at 9:53 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Google has too much power over other businesses, true, but when Microsoft was sued, nothing really useful came of it, and the case was basically settled/dropped when Bush II came into power. I'd be surprised to see the federal government take on another, similar case, unless they know they have a strong case they can push through quickly, and with as few lengthy appeals and as little system-gaming from Google as possible.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:14 AM on March 20, 2015


I disagree entirely that the anti-trust suit had no effect on Microsoft. That company really did change the way they conduct their business. I'm convinced Google could not have existed without the Microsoft anti-trust decision. It would have been so easy for Microsoft to bake a Google competitor into their browser and OS, to make it difficult for Google to be the search engine or ad results. It's exactly the kind of thing they used to do before the anti-trust case. But Microsoft didn't.

I also think there's plenty of reason to be concerned about Google's market dominance and whether it becomes an effective monopoly. Specifically in the advertising markets, the part that makes money. Google's search ads, display ads, and ad distribution network is enormous and very difficult to compete with. But that's in desktop browsers. The thing that gives me hope is that Google is proving to be fairly poor at mobile. The mobile ads market is much more open than browser advertising is right now, at least in the US, and Google's not rolling over the whole market the way they have with desktop browser ads.
posted by Nelson at 10:30 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm convinced Google could not have existed without the Microsoft anti-trust decision.

In its current form, as one of the goliaths of the tech scene, no way, I absolutely agree. It might have been an interesting little competitor to Excite and Lycos and AltaVista, but if it showed signs of taking off, it would have been bought, embrace-and-extinguished, or rendered irrelevant by the baked-in IEBing.

The problem with Google right now is that the part that makes money is (IMO) the sleaziest and least interesting part of their business, and that's not a great situation for them, or for us the consumers.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:39 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


That company really did change the way they conduct their business.

As one example of business-as-usual, it is still difficult to impossible to buy a non-Apple computer without the usual Windows tax, unless you DIY or go to a speciality outfit.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:41 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I would modify the Flabdablet's shahada a bit

Disassemble the heretic!
posted by flabdablet at 10:55 AM on March 20, 2015


"Am I the only one here who's experienced a continuous degradation in the usefulness of Google search results over the past several years? It's very noticeable. Is it because of this content-favoritism?"

At least part of the problem for me is that Google tries to guess what I want instead of actually searching for the words I typed in the search bar. Aaaarrgh!
posted by Dr. Send at 11:03 AM on March 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Google tries to guess what I want ... Aaaarrgh!

You can tell it not to do that.
posted by flabdablet at 11:14 AM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Then they'll merge and America will be rebranded as the United States of Amawaloogle.

Surely you mean Buy n Large?
posted by Jpfed at 11:37 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dr. Send: "At least part of the problem for me is that Google tries to guess what I want instead of actually searching for the words I typed in the search bar. Aaaarrgh!"

To be fair, I think it's at least marginally more common that this feature corrects my typos than that it searches for something other than what I wanted, and correcting the search to "what I actually typed" is a single click, so at least for me, this is a gain in accuracy, not a loss.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:54 AM on March 20, 2015


As one example of business-as-usual, it is still difficult to impossible to buy a non-Apple computer without the usual Windows tax, unless you DIY or go to a speciality outfit.

In 2009 I bought a computer from Dell with no microsoft windows "tax" and it was very very easy to do so.
posted by bukvich at 12:16 PM on March 20, 2015


Dell’s Linux PC sequel still “just works”—but it adds 4K screen and rough edges. Brand new laptop, looks like nice hardware. My complaint about Windows' monopoly on PC hardware is they haven't done enough with it. Most Windows hardware is total shit and doesn't run the OS well. Look to what Apple does with tighter integration in building high quality machines. Anyway, most of the folks I know (including myself) who want a PC-class computer to run Linux on end up ordering parts and putting it together themselves, or else paying some local screwdriver shop to do it. Either way it's not hard to avoid the Microsoft tax.

I'd love to understand more about the FTC and Google's negotiations and why FTC chose to let this particular manipulation slide. Particularly since it specifically has been a point of contention in the European anti-trust investigations in to Google. FTC is in a funny role in the US. To their credit they've taken on a lot of Internet company cases, and useful ones, but they seem to have had very little meaningful impact on the industry.
posted by Nelson at 1:00 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nafeez Ahmed:

How the CIA made Google
Inside the secret network behind mass surveillance, endless war, and Skynet—
part 1

Why Google made the NSA
Inside the secret network behind mass surveillance, endless war, and Skynet—
part 2


Favorited to try to parse later. Fundamentally this is the military/"security"-industrial complex now - the DoD and TLAs playing VC to get a finger in any technological pie that looks exploitable. But I'm less than fond of having an overwhelming number of possible connections - Peter Norvig's Google+ account! A digression about Enron! - thrown at me as a rhetorical technique.
posted by atoxyl at 1:05 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I picked Amawaloogle because it combines parts of Amazon, Walmart and Google with no extra syllables. I think starting with "Ama" makes a nice flow from the "United States of..." but in hindsight perhaps I should have gone with Amagoowal.

Amagoowal, Amagoowal, God shed his grace on thee...

Has a certain ring to it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:20 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Google exists to sell you things. Period.

FTFY
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:41 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I would, except I can't verbify it easily, so I'll stick with Bing {hamburger}

Nah, you just duck it!

All they need is an ad campaign like this.

"Do you know if anywhere around here sells bike tires?"

"Eh, i dunno, duck it"
posted by emptythought at 5:24 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


So I guess when you vanity search, you'd go duck yourself?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:03 AM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Really its the time range aspect of search that currently holds Google up as a search engine for me. Without a sense of recency, the results from Bing or Duck look like Yahoo's from 1995
posted by infini at 1:25 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Most Windows hardware is total shit and doesn't run the OS well.

In my experience, most Windows-compatible hardware runs that OS just fine. That OS plus OEM branding foistware plus Norton or McAfee antivirus, not so much.
posted by flabdablet at 6:21 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Amagoowal, Amagoowal, God shed his grace on thee... Has a certain ring to it.

Perhaps not exactly a ring.
posted by flabdablet at 7:24 AM on March 21, 2015


Tighter integration means less choice. Windows hardware is a mess compared to Apple because it is more fragmented and supports older stuff better. Apple gets around this by simply ceasing support so of course it is cleaner.
posted by Mitheral at 9:16 AM on March 21, 2015


TIL that the Net interprets non-neutrality as damage and routes around it.
posted by flabdablet at 10:45 PM on March 21, 2015




Really, Rupert?: Google's official response to the WSJ article. It's remarkably snarky.
posted by Nelson at 4:53 PM on March 27, 2015


Wow. That's incredibly arrogant, and by a senior VP. I guess dodging multiple lawsuits might make you a bit cocky.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:31 PM on March 27, 2015


Nothing like meme gifs to spice up your public policy note, eh?
posted by infini at 6:59 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


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