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Google defends against accusations of search bias

Claims it doesn't favour its own services
Mon Dec 13 2010, 20:12

ADVERTISING BROKER Google has been criticised for using search query results to promote its own services over others.

The Wall Street Journal cobbled together this not so surprising claim after interviewing websites that thought the search and advertising giant lists its own services above theirs. Travel website Tripadvisor claimed that it suffered a drop in traffic due to Google padding queries with its own results before offering anything else.

Google's secret page-rank search algorithm has been refined for many years, with the firm making changes to increase the effectiveness of its results. Accusations of search bias have been floating around for almost as long as Google itself, but this time websites have claimed that the outfit is favouring its own services, such as Place Search.

"We built Google for users, not websites," was the firm's retort to the accusations. In its cleverly worded statement, Google essentially laid the blame on websites, saying that its algorithm is designed to pick out the best answer for the user, which just happens to be Google's own services.

However unlike its competitors, Google knows with absolute certainty how to game its own search algorithm, putting it at a significant competitive advantage over other websites. On the flip side, can any sensible observer fault Google for promoting its own services over others? After all, it has invested millions of dollars in its software, even giving some of it away such as Android and Chrome, and if users don't like it, well, there are alternatives.

That seems to be the message Google is peddling, saying that users come first. In its statement, Google said, "We welcome ongoing dialog with webmasters to help ensure we're building great products, but at the end of the day, users come first. If we fail our users, competition is just a click away."

Google might be primarily in the advertising game, but it knows that without users bringing in valuable personal data, it simply doesn't have anything to sell. And after all, there are very few truly unique websites, meaning that if Tripadvisor does pull its advertising money there are plenty of others ready to take its place.

Being in such a dominant position does give Google added responsibilities to provide a fair and honest service to web users. Whether it should neglect to promote its own services in order to do so is up for debate. µ



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