Why Google Is Not Neutral

November 4, 2009

After discussing whether Google should buy the New York Times, Google decided against it because it “would damage its ‘neutral’ identity“, per Ken Auletta’s just-published book “Googled: The End of The World as We know It.”

  • Google has long claimed to be neutral. Their corporate philosophy statement claims: “We never manipulate rankings to put our partners higher in our search results and no one can buy better PageRank. Our users trust our objectivity and no short-term gain could ever justify breaching that trust.”
  • As the world-leading corporate proponent of an industrial policy to mandate net neutrality for all its potential broadband competitors in cloud computing, and as the beneficiary of “The Google Loophole” in the FCC’s proposed open Internet regulations (para 104), it is fair to stress test whether Google’s claim of a “neutral’ identity is true or just cleverly-executed PR.

Is Google Neutral?

First, by the standards of Google’s own co-founders, Google’s search advertising model is not neutral.

  • The Google co-founder’s PHD disertation said: “…advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers…” (Appendix A)

Second, Google’s ultra-secret search algorthim reportedly has over 1,000 variables/discrimination biases which decide which content gets surfaced, so it can be found and monetized, and which content gets effectively hidden “at the back of the arena.”

  • Google’s Senior VP Jonathan Rosenberg all but admitted in February that Google’s search engine is not neutral in declaring in a Google blogpost: “We won’t (and shouldn’t) try to stop the faceless scribes of drivel, but we can move them to the back row of the arena.”

Third, Google is not neutral in that its search engine favors Google-owned content over non-Google-owned content.

  • Search for many videos and Google-owned-YouTube examples show up first. The same happens related to mapping inquiries — Google Maps and Google Earth most always show up at the top of Google’s search results. Google also provides itself specialized ad formats that are better than non-Google advertisers get. To drive home how obvious it is that Google’s search engine is not neutral as claimed, there is actually a search engine called “Google Minus Google” that removes the Google-favored content to make the results more neutral.

Fourth, Google is not neutral in that it has an admitted country bias against certain country content.

  • Google co-founder Sergey Brin said in Google’s 1Q08 earnings call with investors, that Google “improved” its international search quality by “demoting non-country search results” on Google’s improved country home pages.

Fifth, Google also has an organizational bias against the existing domain addressing system of the world wide web, in that its Chrome browser has one Omnibox which automatically directs the user to Google’s historical archive copy in its data centers and not to the actual website.

  • Let me rephrase this point so no one misses the non-neutral significance. When one uses the Google Chrome browser one ALWAYS goes to Google’s omni Internet-archive first, even if one inserted a complete web address and wanted to go to the bonafide original website and not Google’s archived copy of it. This non-neutral diversion of a search away from the ranked content’s website to Google’s data center — actively prevents the owner of the website/advertiser from gaining the information of that visit or click-thru that their brand advertising has earned.

Sixth, Google has blocked search advertising that promotes political views that Google does not share. On the morning of the FCC’s net neutrality vote October 22nd, Bret Glass of ExtremeTech.com tried to advertise his white paper, that advocated a light regulatory touch, on Google Adwords only to find that Google blocked his ad as not meeting their “guidelines.” This is not the first time Google has blocked content that did not comport with Google’s political/policy agenda. For example, Google blocked anti-Moveon.org ads proposed by a U.S. Senator’s campaign.

Seventh, Google, in the Google Book Settlement, tried to non-neutrally advantage Google’s search engine over competitors, by blocking competitors access to the roughly five million orphan works/books that Google digitized without permission in violation of copyright law.

  • The U.S. DOJ recommended that the court block the settlement essentially because Google was acting non-neutrally and anti-competitively.

Finally, there are at least three examples of competitors that have alleged that Google has non-neutrally buried them in Google’s rankings. TradeComet filed a civil antitrust lawsuit against Google in February. Foundem just created a new website www.searchneutrality.org to spotlight Google’s non-neutral treatment of Foundem. And John Borthwick who ran Fotolog recounts how his site’s Google traffic was suddenly non-neutrally decimated without explanation.

In sum, Google’s legendary PR has created the brand image and perception that Google is net neutral, but as the evidence catalogued above shows, the reality is Google is not neutral.

  • Therefore to be fair, since the U.S. DOJ has determined that Google has anti-competitively tried to exercise its monopoly power, not once but twice, Google should be subject to any FCC open Internet regulations designed to prevent those with market power from anti-competitively discriminating against any content of a users’ choice.

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