The jury is in and it’s official. Google has cheated many companies in big ways and done so for much longer than most are aware.
For several years now, companies such as Yelp and Amazon have accused Google of stealing content to boost the competitive services offered by the search engine giant in crushing the competition. Unfortunately, claims of damage to business models through unfair and biased rankings do not end there. Microsoft’s search engine Bing, and travel sites such as Expedia and TripAdvisor are among many others to cry foul.
Yes, they may be guilty of the same; but for the focus of this piece, let’s put Google on trial and get to the truth.
Earlier this month, disturbing news came out of the tech community as those rumors, along with many others, were confirmed as true by a previously undisclosed 2012 Federal Trade Commission report that “accidentally” ended up in the hands of the Wall Street Journal. The report was inadvertently sent to the WSJ after a Freedom of Information Act request. The document details how Google slighted many websites and various competitors while they stacked the odds in their own favor.
How Google Damaged Competitors
The lengthy report documents Google’s misuse of search engine algorithms to favor shopping, travel, and local businesses to benefit the company. Ranking criteria was altered, content from rival sites was ignored all together, and the search engine was also found to intentionally demote rival websites even when Google’s services were not the most relevant for consumers. The report goes on to state that “conduct has resulted – and will result – in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets” and that Google has caused “harm to many vertical competitors”.
It was also confirmed that Google did in fact “scrape” or steal content from rival websites such as Yelp. When the sites that this information was being taken from requested that Google discontinue this practice, many received threats of removal from search engine rankings all together. Google’s response to this claim was simply that doing so was justifiable because it helped better assist customers to find information more quickly and more effectively.
In a 2013 settlement, the FTC found this practice to be unethical and ruled against Google which allows for rival companies to opt out of having information and reviews stolen without fear of retribution.
The findings of the FTC report seem to be at odds with what Eric Schmidt, the once Chief Executive and now Executive Chairman for Google told a 2011 Senate panel about the company’s search practices stating he, “was not aware of any strange boosts or biases” in search engine rankings. “I can assure you we’ve not cooked” Google’s search results, Schmidt added.
The FTC found that Google had in fact deployed anti-competitive strategies to maintain and bolster its monopoly over search advertising for fear of lost revenue and searches. Despite this fact, Google’s General Counsel Kent Walker was quoted in a statement as saying, “After an exhaustive 19-month review, covering nine million pages of documents and many hours of testimony, the FTC staff and all five FTC Commissioners agreed that there was no need to take action on how we rank and display search results,”. He went on to say, “We regularly change our search algorithms and make over 500 changes a year to help our users get the information they want,” and added, “We created search for users, not websites – and that focus has driven our improvements over the last decade.”
Though the initial investigation was conducted from 2012 to early 2013 the incriminating results of the document still hold great relevance today as Google continues to expand its repertoire of services.
Earlier this month, Google launched a new search tool for car insurance quotes that is sure to rival similar tools offered by companies such as Allstate and Esurance. These disturbing revelations and insights into the business practices of what was once a universally trusted search engine for most could possibly have tarnished Google’s reputation permanently. How can businesses and consumers alike trust Google to provide the most relevant information and ranking for search results when it is now widely known that the search engine puts their personal agenda above all else?
Only time will tell if Google will be able to redeem themselves in the public’s eye, or if the public will actually hold Google accountable for these grievances.
How do you think these insights will affect the search giant going forward?