In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Adam Raff raises the topic of search neutrality about which I had not previously heard. He suggests that his company, Foundem, was "disappeared" by Google in web searches for anti-competitive reasons (see: Search, but You May Not Find). Foundem is a vertical search and price comparison web site. When I searched for it on Google in preparation for this note, it appeared at the top of my search engine retrieval page (SERP). Raff may have a point but I am nervous about his proposed solution. Below is an excerpt from the piece:
The need for search neutrality is particularly pressing because so much market power lies in the hands of one company: Google....One way that Google exploits this control is by imposing covert “penalties” that can strike legitimate and useful Web sites, removing them entirely from its search results or placing them so far down the rankings that they will in all likelihood never be found. For three years, my company’s vertical search and price-comparison site, Foundem, was effectively “disappeared” from the Internet in this way. Another way that Google exploits its control is through preferential placement. With the introduction in 2007 of what it calls “universal search,” Google began promoting its own services at or near the top of its search results, bypassing the algorithms it uses to rank the services of others....Because of its domination of the global search market and ability to penalize competitors while placing its own services at the top of its search results, Google has a virtually unassailable competitive advantage. And Google can deploy this advantage well beyond the confines of search to any service it chooses. Wherever it does so, incumbents are toppled, new entrants are suppressed and innovation is imperiled. Google’s treatment of Foundem stifled our growth and constrained the development of our innovative search technology. The F.C.C. is now inviting public comment on its proposed network neutrality rules, so there is still time to persuade the commission to expand the scope of the regulations. In particular, it should ensure that the principles of transparency and nondiscrimination apply to search engines as well as to service providers. The alternative is an Internet in which innovation can be squashed at will by an all-powerful search engine.
First of all, I can't resist commenting on the fact that the New York Times has placed an article critical of Google, authored by a Google competitor and with an obvious bias, on its op-ed page. I'm not the only one who is thinking alone these same lines (see: More Whining About Google). This struck me as very odd and reinforces my belief that the newspaper has an [unwritten] policy of exaggerating anti-Google news. The prominent placement of this article seems to represent a continuation of this ill-conceived policy. I would prefer that the paper pursue a more evenhanded approach and recognize Google as an IT innovation leader rather than as a culprit responsible, in part, for the declining fortunes of the print media.
Now, as to the wisdom of piggy-backing "search neutrality" on top of "network neutrality" as a focus for FCC regulation, I need to register my personal opposition to the idea (see: Google Moves Away from Net Neutrality). For me, web search is absolutely critical whether the search engine under the microscope is Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Google has achieved market dominance in web search by constant innovation (see: Google Tries to Innovate But Gets Snarky Response from Journalist). I believe that the fastest way to stifle innovation in any business sector is to invite meddling by politicians and governmental regulators. I have the same attitude toward regulation of IVDMIAs by the FDA. Little possible good can come of it. It's possible that Google may tweak its search algorithms to "disappear" competitors. However, if I were facing this same problem, I would get on the phone with Microsoft and Yahoo and work some deal with them rather than call for more governmental regulation.