Search neutrality

Another kind of neutrality I was not aware of: Search neutrality, i.e. forcing search engines to remain objective and neutral in the results they provide. It is a complex and highly subjective issue, but Google has a huge leverage on millions of websites, and the company is now being investigated by the European union on whether it abused its dominant position.

The problem with search neutrality? By definition, search engines are subjective, they filter some sites in, other sites out. “Telling a search engine to be more relevant is like telling a boxer to punch harder […] Search is an inherently subjective enterprise that makes a mockery of attempts to regulate it into some sort of neutral form” says James Grimmelmann, an associate professor at the New York Law School, on Ars Technica.

A recent attempt to find a biais in Google resulted in Search Engine Watch (a reference on the matter) concluding that there is little to no biais, and that other engines might be even worse.

What we see here might be more of a cultural clash, the “business centric” americans finding it normal that a large company provides a highly influential service, while Europeans have a more centralized approach and get scared when lots of power is between the hands of somebody else than a government. Liberalism vs socialism, if I’m allowed a simplification that George W. Bush could have fathered (sorry).

Regulating search will be extremely complicated, and users certainly don’t want a government to be able to weight on what search engines return either (which would be the other extreme). I wonder what would happen if Google was founded by Europeans and operating from France or Germany. How different would the algorythm be, and would Google still inspire fear to the Sarkozys and Merkels of this world? Where is Quaero when you need it ๐Ÿ˜‰ ?

PS: Another example of EU vs Google, the spanish government asking Google to take down some links and grant a right for forget to its citizens.
PS2: More on the matter: Is Google Favoring Itself In Its Search Results?

I am an entrepreneur and researcher passionate about understanding the social implications of digital technologies.
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