June 26, 2013

Google defends its search results in Europe


Last year, Google controversially suggested that its search results were like the “table of contents for a custom-made magazine”, and it now finds itself defending this system of prioritizing results in the European Union.

Before the E.U. antitrust commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, Google has been offering concessions to avoid a finding of wrongdoing due to its alleged “anti-competitive” habit of favoring its own Web products over others. Google’s rivals in Europe have likewise been pressuring the commission, warning that Google’s offer of adding “blue highlighted links to rival sites”, among other solutions to its problematic editorial choices, would do very little to offset Google’s monopoly on search results.

Stephanie Bodoni writes in Bloomberg Businessweek that,

“The proposed settlement will still give Google “too much scope” to prioritize its own products, according to the companies, which filed complaints that triggered the initial EU investigation. The EU has said Google is dominant (GOOG) in Web search and search advertising in Europe and that the Mountain View, California-based company may harm competition.”

Investigations such as the one in the E.U., and pressure in the United States from intellectual property advocates such as the RIAA, is one reason why Google has been arguing for a right to what would effectively be “editorial control” of its search results. As Cory Doctorow wrote in 2012 in The Guardian, “Google implies that a page of search results is effectively the table of contents for a custom-made magazine assembled on the fly in response to a user’s query.”

Google might find this interpretation particularly useful in Europe, in order to borrow some of the freedoms afforded to the press. Given,

“It is extraordinary – beyond the pale – for a record industry executive or a Eurocrat to instruct a magazine editor about what must (and must not) be in her table of contents, and how that table must be ordered. Governmental or legislative control over journalism is traditionally limited to the most narrow of circumstances, such as prohibitions on publishing obscenity or official secrets (and even this is enormously controversial).”

In opposition, its critics say that Google should not be regulated like a media company, but rather like the industries of “telecommunications or electric utilities”, given search’s tool-like function.

Market testing of Google’s proposals to the E.U. antitrust commission will be examined over the coming weeks.



Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.