Google abusing its position to disadvantage rival companies in search results?

Search engine experts are increasingly expressing suspicions and concerns about Google promoting its own web pages, products and services -- at the expense of others. There's an old saying that "power corrupts". How evil has this corporation become so far?

The concerns arise, however, back on Google's main search page ... Since Google controls its own search index, it can push Google Places more prominently ... the mere fact that Google is indexing these Places pages has the SEO world in a tizzy.

And Google is indexing them, despite assurances to the contrary ... the Google Places page is the sixth result, above results from Yelp, Yahoo Travel, and New York Times Travel. This wouldn't be so bad if Google wasn't already linking to itself in the top "one Box" result, which shows a detail from Google Maps ...

Here's another example from my own observations. Microsoft recently launched Office Web Apps, a web-based version of their MS Office software against which Google Docs is in direct competition. The next day I searched Google for "office apps" and guess what was listed first in the results? Yes, Google Docs. Yet the word "office" appears nowhere on that page -- not even in the HTML. Does this provide further evidence of manipulation and deceit? To date, Google Docs is still number one for that search term, but Microsoft's rival product is nowhere to be found:-

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=office+apps

Google's search "algorithm" is closed and secret. They can to decide which websites appear at the top of the search results and which don't. They can decide whether a website is indexed, and whether a website is removed. Google is still the world's most used search engine, so these decisions have a major impact. The Google factor can literally make or break a company. If a company is penalised by Google their only option may be to pay to appear on the results page -- effectively held to ransom. No wonder many people involved with the internet, myself included, feel genuinely afraid and are reluctant to criticise Google, or exercise restraint in doing so.

As Google's empire rapidly expands, diversifying into new markets, an escalating number of companies are finding themselves competing with Google in some way -- while relying on their position in Google's search results for a major proportion of their business. This creates a very clear conflict of interests, which is not just sinister but potentially very dangerous and damaging to competition and fairness.

Google's influence over the internet extends far beyond controlling traffic to websites or companies. Google's search engine is supposed to just index the web, not change the web. Yet the corporation has stepped way beyond that mark, and acting in a way that changes the internet to suit the personal preferences of people at Google. For example, Google has decreed that URLs with words separated by hyphens (to represent spaces) are better than URLs delimited by another character like the underscore. As a result, of course, most websites use dashes in their friendly URLs -- to serve Google's SEO commandments. Google is now cited as a case for using hyphens in URLs. Yet underscores are better.

Google should not use its position to unilaterally decide the outcome of debates like underscore vs hyphen; rather, they should allow the web to evolve organically and adapt their own systems accordingly.

29 September 2009

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Andy Buckingham (29 Sep 09, 19:25)

To be fair, I did a Bing search for 'office apps' and Google Docs is not anywhere on the front page.

http://www.bing.com/search?q=office+apps&go=&form=QBLH&filt=all&qs=n

Tim Acheson (30 Sep 09, 13:22)

It's definitely good to compare Bing's search results to balance this discussion. Thanks! :)

And I think your observation could add further weight to my conclusion. A search for "office apps" in a trustworthy search engine like Bing doesn't include Google Docs -- and for good reasons which seem very clear. The Google Docs homepage doesn't contain either of these words, "office" or "apps", let alone both of them or the whole search term! ;)

Google demands that web sites do not attempt to enter the index for words which do not apply. Websites which disobey, for example by hiding a word from the user, are subject to severe penalties such as suspension and even removal from the index. It's double-standards and hypocrisy for Google then to list its own web sites under keywords which are don't appear anywhere on the page. If Google wants this page to appear here, why don't they simply use these words on the web page like everybody else has to.

This is a matter worthy of serious concern, even if we leave aside the apparent motive for manipulating the index. The motive is apparently to gain an unfair advantage over a legitimate competitor.

John Stevens (01 Oct 09, 14:34)

This is not the only under handed technique that Google is using they are also taking cheap-shots at Microsoft by using Picasa 3 to change the default search engine. It seems Google is getting worried about its search market by trying to destroy threats from Bing.

http://www.pcpro.co.uk/blogs/2009/09/24/googles-new-motto-pi-off-microsoft/

Tim Acheson (01 Oct 09, 18:14)

Thank you for raising this, it's another disturbing issue and another potential case of anti-competitive practices.

Tim Acheson (01 Dec 10, 14:51)

Update:

Note that Google has sentiment analysis algorythms that can determine whether something written about a particular subject is favourable or not, and quantify to what extent the tone pertaining to a topic is positive or negative. This could easily be used to target and supress websites are critical of Google, and to implement various other sinister and unscrupulous strategies.

Google's Prediction API overviewstates: "What Can the Prediction API Do? ... "Analyze posted comments about your product to determine whether they have a positive or negative tone."

Just last year, Google filed a patent for a sentiment classification system. The success of most websites depends on Google to a high degree. If websites are reluctant to criticise or challenge Google, it is understandable. But this is all rather sinister.

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