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Texas Opens Inquiry Into Google Search Rankings 178

Posted by timothy
from the when-governments-attack dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The AP reports that Texas' attorney general, Greg Abbott, has opened an anti-trust investigation against Google spurred by complaints that the company has abused its power as the Internet's dominant search engine. The review appears to be focused on whether Google is manipulating its search results to stifle competition. European regulators already have been investigating complaints alleging that Google has been favoring its own services in its results instead of rival websites and several lawsuits have also been filed in the US that have alleged Google's search formula is biased. However Google believes Abbott is the first state attorney general to open an antitrust review into the issue."
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Texas Opens Inquiry Into Google Search Rankings

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  • When you can't compete in a market, sue... That's the ticket!
    • by maxume (22995) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @07:46AM (#33474314)

      This is a politician looking for attention, not a competitor trying not to compete.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by interkin3tic (1469267)

      More like "When you can't fix the real problems plaguing your shitty state, distract attention by opening up a pointless investigation on a very well known, big company."

      I'd be 100% in favor of Google opening up their own investigation of Texas. Start with the Texas revolution. That was questionable.

      • When you can't fix the real problems plaguing your shitty state, distract attention by opening up a pointless investigation on a very well known, big company.

        Strange, I would expect to see the AG of the failed state of California to be opening this kind of investigations then, not Texas which is doing pretty well these days.
        • But as the state's budget shortfall widens-to as much as $18 billion, or about 20% of the next two-year budget, according to the state legislature's latest analysis released earlier this month-critics are complaining that Mr. Perry's policies have left the state with little room to reduce spending.

          From the WSJ's article on Texas's massive budget deficity, which is substantially larger than California's.

          • In itself, a budget deficit isn't a bad thing. It's a problem for the state government, but it may be a good thing for the state economy in the long run because it forces the state has to cut spending which it should be doing anyway. While all the states are feeling the recession, Texas unemployment rate is substantially lower than California's (8% v. 13%) and its economy is the strongest of any state (http://www.cnbc.com/id/37516041/) by a variety of measures including GDP growth. Btw I don't live in Texas
            • by gmhowell (26755)

              You let your senators run your state? Weird. In my state we let the governor and the state legislature do that.

        • Strange, I would expect to see the AG of the failed state of California to be opening this kind of investigations then, not Texas which is doing pretty well these days.

          Kind of sounds like you're saying the pot is not black because the kettle is also black. Anyway, the California budget may be absurd, but I blame that on the voters who decided, shortsightedly, that there was probably no reason taxes should ever go up, so it should be impossible to raise them when revenue goes down, costs go up, and you can't cut all the fat immediately.

          Texas, however, I don't know who to blame. Of the states, they have the second highest percentage of their population locked up in prison

          • but I blame that on the voters who decided, shortsightedly, that there was probably no reason taxes should ever go up

            California's fiscal problems are not due to low taxes. Nor are they due to not raising taxes. CA's fiscal problems can be traced to the 1990s when while CA's economy was roaring the state increased spending just as fast. When tax revenue dropped the state didn't drop spending too. Hell, look at the Taj Mahal [yahoo.com] of public schools. While teachers are being laid off LA spends more than half a

      • by mjwalshe (1680392)
        and the Texas judge and his lawyer son that appear in a staggering number of those patent troll lawsuits
    • by tomhath (637240) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @07:56AM (#33474360)
      Google has hinted pretty strongly that Microsoft is behind these lawsuits [blogspot.com]. That wouldn't surprise me. My guess is that the real goal here is to force Google to make their ranking algorithm public.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by hedwards (940851)
        Doesn't matter who it is, the reality is that Google should never have been allowed to grow so large via acquisitions. It still blows my mind that the DoJ didn't see any problems with them buying out their nearest competitor in the online advertisement space, when they were already number one. While I doubt this suit in particular has merit, it's almost assured that Google isn't as not evil as they'd like us to believe.
        • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

          Bullshit, the reason Google is the number one internet advertiser is because they are the number one search provider. The reason they are the number one search provider is because they give more relevant results than any other search engine. Google's "evil" practices have made the internet much nicer to use (do you remember how bad banner ads were at the turn of the century?), and they have consistently followed the business strategy of providing their customers the best experience possible in order to ge

          • by Ihmhi (1206036)

            Bullshit, the reason Google is the number one internet advertiser is because they are the number one search provider.

            Hail, fellow member of the tautology club [xkcd.com]!

      • by Nemyst (1383049)
        Which would be fairly ironic considering how Bing's search results were strongly suspected of being altered when it first began (remember the Linux-related searches?).
      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by wagadog (545179)

        Google's ranking algorithm *is* public. Read Amy Langville's book, "Google's PageRank and Beyond."

        What isn't public is how the values of certain thresholds are determined to, for example, weed out link farms and add small statistical variations to the link adjacency matrix so that it can be more easily solved. These are determined heuristically -- trial and error, in essence.

        The devil is in the details, but who cares -- search indexes are easy enough to build and even easier to filter and skew.

        Google is j

        • by Tacvek (948259)

          Page rank is actually only one of several systems used in deciding the ordering of the results. Pagerank could not account for the grouping of links from one site (including hiding any after the first two or three), nor for the search history based re-ordering, etc.

          Granted those other ranking systems are also certainly not very complex, almost certainly less so than pagerank. Similarly, how the various ranking systems are combined is probably quite trivial.

          That said, the exact details are not published, qui

    • by Idbar (1034346)
      I don't get it. I don't see any biased result: when I google it [google.com].

      In all seriousness, their algorithm works based on how many people look for something. Sometimes I use the search bar on my Firefox to look for Google (instead of using the URL bar). In any case, I'm not very surprised by the results of this search [google.com] anyways. Neither from these results [bing.com] although I find interesting that bing doesn't show up in their own search! Of course the latter are very similar to Yahoo's results [yahoo.com]. But even Yahoo promotes itse
      • by Tacvek (948259)

        Yahoo's web search is powered by Bing, which explains the extreme similarity between the two.

        I do find it absurd that Altavista (which was the best engine before Google thanks to it's advanced boolean search) ranks higher than Google in Bing results. Nobody uses altavista anymore.

    • From the same state that was so critical of frivolous lawsuits and keeps trying to weasel creationism into science textbooks.

      I'd wear getting sued by Texas as a badge of honor.

  • More on this... (Score:5, Informative)

    by alphatel (1450715) * on Saturday September 04, 2010 @07:27AM (#33474248)
    Search Neutrality under attack [namemon.com]

    As originally posted on Search Engine Land [searchengineland.com], These allegations are merely exploratory and it is difficult to determine exactly where the GA's office is headed in this investigation, or how Texas could claim jurisdiction. All the lawsuits in question are being raised by non-Texas corporations and against a California-based company.

    Yesterday, Google responded to the investigation [blogspot.com], which has not been made public yet by the General Attorney's office. In it's response, Google states that they "listen carefully to people's concerns" and " we strongly believe our business practices reflect our commitment to build great products for the benefit of users everywhere". To some extent this sounds like the usual play from Google, invoking it's "do no evil" mantra.

    Does Google manipulate results to thwart competitors and advance its own businesses? Some competitors to Google are concerned that the company lowers search results listings for certain firms and/or charging higher fees ads they place vs those of Google's partners.

    Google has never revealed its search or ranking methodology for sites in detail, though it has published some papers on optimization and best practices.

    Google's reply on a Friday night after business hours on the biggest 3-day summer weekend of the year is sure to draw little attention.

    • Re:More on this... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Jedi Alec (258881) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @08:05AM (#33474420)

      If Google is listing its own products above those of their competitors, they're doing a pretty shitty job. Doing a google search for "search engine" gets me a wiki, an aggregator site, Altavista, Bing and then Google ;-)

      The first news result is about Google facing some sort of Texas AG inquiry though...

      • If Google is listing its own products above those of their competitors, they're doing a pretty shitty job. Doing a google search for "search engine" gets me a wiki, an aggregator site, Altavista, Bing and then Google ;-)

        Bing came up as a sponsored link on my results. Google itself didn't even appear until page 4.

      • by r7 (409657)

        Google not only prioritizes its own services it also provides "priority placement" to its direct customers. Ever notice how often paid services like springersource and experts-exchange rank high in search results despite only being available to paying customers?

        • by Zerth (26112)

          Because lots of people link to experts-exchange. Usually with a "scroll all the way down or fake your redirect" disclaimer.

        • OMG there needs to be a toggle to filter paid services companies like experts-exchange. Their BS is so gaw damn annoying it's not funny. It's bad when I have to create a string of "-experts-exchange -driverskit -driverszone -etc." because Google keeps listing these garbage results.
      • Having google come up as the first google result is of no benefit to google. Searching for "email" or "video" or "calender" have google results at the top, but even then it's not really self-promotion, because a google search is a search of google as well as the web, since it would be pretty ridiculous to have a separate search box.
    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      Just nit-picking here, but in America we call them "Attorney's General" after, somewhat ironically, the French style.

      Texas can claim jurisdiction if all parties do business in Texas, and the internet being what it is, of course they all do business in Texas. The Texas AG will be bringing the suit on behalf of the citizens of Texas, and everyone who does business with Google in Texas (that would include all of the non-Texas based companies who have customers or at least attempt to have customers in Texas).

      T

      • While we're picking nits, there appears to be a nit lodged between the y and the s in your spelling of attorneys general.
    • What the F is "search neutrality"? Search rankings, by their very nature, are going to rank pages as better or worse for a particular topic. Just because you had your heart set on being the number one website for X doesn't mean you're getting screwed if you're not. It probably reflects the reality that most people don't infact want your site when they go looking for X. If anything, Google is far too neutral. When I'm going shopping for something on the internet, I don't want pages of screwy mom and pop
  • Uh...it's free... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Das Auge (597142) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @07:29AM (#33474260)
    Texas, why am I not surprised?

    People are going to draw parallels between Google and Microsoft or Intel. However, I need to point out that unlike the later two, Google's services are free to the end user. Not only that, but it's also monumentally easier to stop using Google than say, Microsoft.

    I don't know if Google is doing what they're accused of, but so what? It's free, I'm not locked in, and they never said that they were impartial (so no false advertisement).
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Antitrust violations tend to be abuse of a monopoly position to prevent competitors from entering or gaining traction in a market.

      Considering that Google isn't really even a monopoly, this doesn't have merit as an actual case.

      • Re:Uh...it's free... (Score:4, Informative)

        by hedwards (940851) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @08:48AM (#33474622)
        Um, why on Earth was this modded informative, because it's wrong. You don't have to be a monopoly to run afoul of antitrust regulations. Being the largest player and using that dominant position to harm other competitors is sufficient. There is no rule that you have to a be a monopoly, I'm not sure where you got that idea from, but it's not correct.

        As an easy to explain example, the deal that saw Google acquire Double click almost certainly ran afoul of the Clayton Antitrust Act in that it substantially reduced the market competition in the on line advertising space. That's just an example, but it pretty clearly demonstrates that being a monopoly isn't necessary for running afoul of antitrust regulations.
        • by Joce640k (829181)

          Nope completely wrong. You can have 99.999% market share and not be a monopoly.

          It only takes you about ten seconds to switch to a different search provider, if you use google it's from free choice.

          the deal that saw Google acquire Double click almost certainly ran afoul of the Clayton Antitrust Act in that it substantially reduced the market competition in the on line advertising space

          What does that have to do with this?

          • by mounthood (993037)

            It only takes you about ten seconds to switch to a different search provider, if you use google it's from free choice.

            You've fallen victim to one of the classic libertarian blunders!* Other people's choices affect your options. You don't get to select what you want; you get to choose an option that enough other people also choose. So if few people buy Oldsmobile, they go out of business, and you can't buy an Oldsmobile. If they are pushed out of the market by a dominant or monopoly competitor, it isn't even other people deciding what should succeed, much less you as an individual.

            *The most famous is "Never get involved

            • by jedidiah (1196)

              >> It only takes you about ten seconds to switch to a different search provider, if you use google it's from free choice.
              >
              > You've fallen victim to one of the classic libertarian blunders!* Other people's choices affect your options. You don't get to

              Not at all.

              A car is a commodity. There is a very large barrier to new entrants. However, there is
              nothing stopping a new one coming into the market. You personally will have no problems
              switching to a new player as soon as they enter the market.

              That's

              • by mounthood (993037)

                > A car is a commodity. There is a very large barrier to new entrants.

                I tried to point out that it's not just about switching costs of the consumer. It's also about what you can switch to. The common libertarian argument is that it's only the choice of the consumer that matters and that the actions of companies or governments don't matter. But if there's no competitor to "Coke or Campbell's or even Electronic Arts" then we can't switch to them. The theory, the possibility, isn't the reality and isn't the

                • by Joce640k (829181)

                  If anything, Bing is the one in a position to lower prices to drive Google out of the market. Microsoft can use the money from Windows/Office to subsidize it. Google doesn't have that.

      • So what if Google is producing biased results. That's what they do. Their algorithm is already biased against SEO spam. Nobody's crying for those businesses.

        The key point is that Google's "users" are getting a (mostly) free service in return for providing demographic data to their primary customers, the advertisers. There is no contract in place where Google agrees to operate without a bias. If someone wants to pay Google for placement then so be it.

    • by houghi (78078)

      Google's services are free to the end user.

      Free as in beer, not free as in Privacy.
      Many people think that Privacy has no value.
      If you ask people about privacy, many will state that it is something to treasure. However just as many are willing to hand it over to others. Privacy is not like Open Source. You can not share it.

    • Texas, why am I not surprised?

      Why are you not surprised?

      it's also monumentally easier to stop using Google than say, Microsoft

      I would say that it's easier to stop using Microsoft. There are numerous free and non-free alternatives. Google, however, has become the de-facto premiere search engine.

      Anyone who wants to prevent inclusion in the Google search index is basically ignoring a significant portion of web users.

      It's easy to see that Google puts their resources at the top of search results for related terms. Here are a few to illustrate:

      • I would say that it's easier to stop using Microsoft. There are numerous free and non-free alternatives. Google, however, has become the de-facto premiere search engine.

        Really? It's easier to stop using Microsoft? How many people install their own OS? How many buy Macs? How many buy PCs with Linux preinstalled? I, and anyone else, can easily use another search engine. Of course the quality of results might not be good. While I use Google mostly, because it gives me the best result most of the tyme, I

  • Indeed (Score:4, Funny)

    by maxwell demon (590494) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @07:29AM (#33474262) Journal

    I also noticed this: Always when I enter search terms in Google, I always get Google search results. Not a single time did I get results from Bing or Altavista. :-)

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by noidentity (188756)
      I know, they're so biased, even though they have that empty "do no evil" mantra. If they really wanted to be fair, they'd submit your search request to a randomly selected search engine out of all those available. I don't see how this would be a problem, and it would end their abusive monopoly position. But of course they won't do that, not unless we throw the book at 'em.
    • I also noticed this: Always when I enter search terms in Google, I always get Google search results. Not a single time did I get results from Bing or Altavista. :-)

      There have been tymes I googled something and got results from another search engine. For instance googling Monte Verde archaeology [google.com] returns About's webpage on Monte Verde [about.com] in 4th place. It used to be first place.

      Falcon

  • Texas? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Guppy06 (410832) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @08:02AM (#33474408)

    What's the problem? Google keeps on raking pages from Wikipedia higher than Conservapedia? I agree, that must be an anti-competitive conspiracy!

    • by gmhowell (26755)

      Just reflecting reality's well known liberal bias.

    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      Wow, just wow.

      Politically, I'm pretty conservative, diverging from folks like Glen Beck on only a few of the more extreme views and attitudes, and I just have to say that site is so obviously biased that it can't possibly be taken seriously. I know Wikipedia has a lot of "liberals" who edit it, that's to be expected - there are a lot of liberals in the world (about as many conservatives, really), but Wikipedia doesn't feel biased one way or another. Sure some articles definitely are, but the site as a who

  • Biased? Who? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by owlstead (636356) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @08:17AM (#33474460)

    I think we should start an inquiry about bias with Texas attorneys, not Google. It seems that they are too embedded in the old boys network to have anything to do with justice.

    Look at the companies that file complaints: three companies that anyone would rather filter out than in. Seems to me that these aren't the companies that warrant the investigation. So I've got a very strong feeling this other company is behind it.

    For me, this is just a big ploy to get to the page-rank algorithm. It would not be hard to leak it when the investigation starts for real.

  • "However Google believes Abbott is the first state attorney general to open an antitrust review into the issue." Did they used Google search to determine this?
  • by lalena (1221394) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @08:40AM (#33474592) Homepage
    From the article:

    Harrison said that Abbott has asked Google for information about several companies, including: Foundem, an online shopping comparison site in Britain; SourceTool, which runs an e-commerce site catering to businesses; and MyTriggers, another shopping comparison site

    Never heard of any of these sites. I Google shopping comparison, and I get the well known comparison sites I expect to see at the top. I do not get MyTriggers.

    So I go to the MyTriggers site itself to check it out. At first, I didn't think they even had merchant site reviews. Then I realized they do, but may of the sites have not been reviewed yet. Only 2 reviews for Target? 12 for Amazon?

    Whois search reveals the site was registered in 2005. Not bad, but if they have been around for 5 years I should have heard about them by now. Also, their domain registration reveals that they renew their domain every year. Google gives better ranking to sites that pay for many years at once, since that shows they owners have faith if their company. Basic SEO fail.

    Quick investigation reveals that the company also owns ShopBig - one of those penny auction sites. I hate these sites and the way they operate. The MyTriggers site is hardcoded to show a big ad link to ShopBig on every page. Aren't they in fact doing the same thing they accuse Google of. They don't give other penny auction sites a chance to advertise there or appear on their search result rankings.

    Let's pick on another site. TFA says that SourceTool is a e-commerce site catering to business, but the title on the home page says "SourceTool - A B2B Search Engine". If I Google B2B Search Engine, they are number 2 in the results. If I Google e-commerce for business they do not appear. The word commerce doesn't appear on their home page. So what are they? SEO Fail.

    In the end, the site is a search engine for companies that sell to businesses. Since they have a medical category, and the company I work for is #1 in several categories for medical devices, I decide to see if they are listed. After waiting a full minute for the medical page to load, they are not. They don't even have the proper category for my company. Just to be sure I click on company profiles A-Z to see if I can find my company. It shows all companies starting with the #1. and a button for next page. No simple button to show companies that start with letter X. Do I have to click Next 50 times? They have a search box on this screen, but if I use it I get a 404 error.

    I wasn't going to review Foundem at first since they are based in the UK and I don't live there. Google should be smart enough to lower their site on my search simply because that site applies less to me. Still I look anyway. They use the less popular .co.uk domain suffix - Google doesn't like this as much. Also, this time there really aren't any merchant rankings. They do have a Google bash on their home page with a link to SearchNeutrality.org - a site they also own.

    I think the real complaint from these companies is the fact that shopping.Google.com results are now always shown on the search results page if Google thinks you are searching for a product - Something Bing did first. This pretty much destroys the business model for many companies. If Google thinks I am trying to purchase something, should they send me to a site that can't sell me the product? Should they send me to another site where I have to do 4 more clicks to get to a list of merchants and prices for the product I am looking for. If Google guesses wrong, should they show me a list of shopping sites on the first page when I really want a product review? I think the way Google handles shopping results is the best way for me, and they are in the business of satisfying my needs. This is still search.

    • by Arthur Grumbine (1086397) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @09:37AM (#33474850) Journal

      Gentlemen, if I may direct your attention here - you'll notice a rare individual of the species criticus cogitans, as he strives to bring rationality to the discussion. Notice the sincere effort to evaluate the content of "The Fucking Article" (as the natives call it), even going so far as to actually investigate the validity of the claims reported in TFA. Notice, also, how he was not able to write his post quickly enough to have it anywhere near the top of the page (the most desired location for this, and many other, internet tribes), and thus has been muscled out of the pecking (and modding) order by those members of his tribe who were able to more quickly spit out a generic response representing their previously held ideologies, as applied to this topic (monopolies/government-regulation/competitiveness).
       
      Truly, gentlemen, we are observing evolution in action, as this individual will receive less recognition for their efforts than their fellows, precisely because of his desire to exercise his critical thinking abilities. Over time we will be able to observe as lalena (1221394) becomes more and more frustrated with being unable to communicate his ideas to his tribe and be rewarded (this community uses a source of nourishment called "mod points"), until he either dies (see the number of inactive/dead 5-digit or less UID for evidence of this), or must adapt his posting style to cater to the whims of masses, just in the hopes of striking a chord with moderator who holds to a similar ideology. I, myself, was gifted by the tribal leaders with a handful of these mod points, to dole out as I see fit. Unfortunately, I appear to have used them all up on the previous article on Craigslist and prostitution.

      tl;dr: Mod Parent Up!!

    • by MeNeXT (200840)

      Also, their domain registration reveals that they renew their domain every year. Google gives better ranking to sites that pay for many years at once, since that shows they owners have faith if their company. Basic SEO fail.

      Wow. Why doe some people read so much into nothing? Some companies have a policy that they will review important assets on a regular basis. The federal/state/provincial registration of a company and the regular upkeep of the federal/state/provincial registration is done on annua

    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      Foundem allegedly has close family connections at one of the broad sheets in the UK, classic trust fund kids with a sense of entitlement.
  • It seems that lately we've seen a lot more government types looking for something they can use against Google. I wonder if they're trying to pressure Google into "voluntarily" cooperating with intelligence and law enforcement agencies. No doubt Google's information gathering capabilities would be extremely useful to them.
  • Google "search" (Score:3, Informative)

    by whoop (194) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @09:57AM (#33474980) Homepage

    I just Googled, "search" and Google was at number seven. Bing was at the top. Using "search engine" and Google isn't even on the first three pages (I got bored after that). So clearly, Google isn't exercising it's monopoly powers very well.

    P.S. I would Google for "Google" but I didn't want to break the Internets.

  • It really upsets me to see how popular it is for Attorney Generals to abuse their powers to feather their political beds. I suppose it was started by Elliot Spitzer's great success at the tactic. We need a way to check their powers.

    Might the Citizens United decision point the way? In that decision, the justices said that corporations are people with respect to first amendment rights. What about fourth amendment rights about unreasonable search and seizure? It seems that one of the primary forms of

  • It never occurred to anybody that someone USING Google wouldn't want results from a competitors page. Sure when I search Microsoft I want the Microsoft page and I know I'm gonna get it. More often though, I am happier with what search results I get with Google, if I wasn't I would switch search engines. This feels like suing Mcdonalds for only serving Mcdonalds food, obviously a big anti-trust deal there. *insert rolling of eyes*
  • Maybe I'm completely off here, but I'd say this is sort of the soft, short-bus version of government fighting for (or at least trying to advance) net neutrality. In this case, the prospective non-neutral area isn't ISP-based. (By extension, it's also not Telcos carrying on about their business rights, either -- which probably goes a very long way to explain why government officials might speak on behalf of the consumers.)

  • When an on duty, in uniform, on the clock deputy guards a U-Haul when his wife backs it up to my house and helps to clean it out, then I get an audio recording of a participant not only admitting to it but taunting and bragging about it, then the sheriffs department calls it a "civil matter" I would say some monkey business was going on. I wrote Greg Abbott for help on the matter and the fact that a judge was obviously biased in the matter when issues surrounding this went to court. Greg Abbott told me to

  • Ever wonder why you cannot buy Kellogg's Heartwise Cereal anymore? Thank the Texas Attorney General's office.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1991/04/03/garden/kellogg-files-slander-suit.html [nytimes.com]

    I laughed at the lawsuit at the time because the claims were baseless. Soon I could no longer buy my favorite cereal.

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