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Google Faces EU Probe Over Doped Search Results 193

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the that-doesn't-sound-nice dept.
Barence writes "The EU has launched an investigation into whether Google is deliberately doctoring its search results to favour its own services. The search giant stands accused of artificially lowering the search ranking of competing price-comparison sites in organic and paid-for search results, in favour of Google Shopping. 'There is a growing chasm between the enduring public perception of Google's search results as comprehensive and impartial, and the reality that they are increasingly neither,' said Shivaun Raff, CEO of British price comparison site Foundem, which lodged the complaint with the EU. Google has denied any foul play. 'Those sites have complained and even sued us over the years, but in all cases there were compelling reasons why their sites were ranked poorly by our algorithms,' it claims."
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Google Faces EU Probe Over Doped Search Results

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  • Isn't this... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ThePromenader (878501) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @09:58AM (#34387642) Homepage Journal

    ...an old story? I'm pretty sure Google is on the line though.

      • by poetmatt (793785)

        oh, you mean the SEO/google competition guy who said he found a bias in google's results?

        why is this even worth reposting (by slashdot and pcpro)?

        • by bonch (38532)

          Because it's not a repost. There wasn't a EU probe last time. However, I realize that many people are so in love with Google that they want to keep living in a bubble where all critical Google news is ignored.

      • by Goaway (82658)

        It's amazing Slashdot actually published that bullshit, and it's even sadder that people actually took it at face value.

        • by Yvanhoe (564877)
          The real news that should make it to /. was that in some country (like France) Google was forced by justice to doctor its result in order to not make suggestion like "John Doe" -> "is a crook"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @10:02AM (#34387672)

    I shop online all of the time. I've never heard of this "foundem". Furthermore, the last two paragraphs are pretty telling:

    Addressing Foundem's allegations specifically, Google said: "We built Google for users, not websites, and the nature of ranking is that some websites will be unhappy with where they rank. Those sites have complained and even sued us over the years, but in all cases there were compelling reasons why their sites were ranked poorly by our algorithms.

    "For example, Foundem, one of the sites that has complained publicly and to the European Commission, duplicates 79% of its website content from other sites, and we have consistently informed webmasters that our algorithms disadvantage duplicate sites."

    You're not ranked high because you're not relevant to the users' interest. 'Nuff said.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by alphatel (1450715) *

      You're not ranked high because you're not relevant to the users' interest. 'Nuff said.

      And who gets to decide that, the competition or a neutral party?

      • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @10:35AM (#34388054) Homepage Journal

        And who gets to decide that, the competition or a neutral party?

        A few billion neutral third parties have said that they like Google's appraisal just fine. If their results weren't so in line with what people want and expect, users would have gone with a different search engine.

        • And who gets to decide that, the competition or a neutral party?

          A few billion neutral third parties have said that they like Google's appraisal just fine.

          Except - there aren't a few billion neutral third parties. There's a few billion people swayed by the opinions of their acquaintances, by endless links to Google searches, etc... etc... Marketing is a powerful tool, doubly so when it's grassroots and the company being marketed maintains such a populist image that many people literally believe they can do

      • by Dishevel (1105119) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @11:03AM (#34388372)
        I use Google because I like their results. If you do not like their results do not use them. They are a company who makes profit by making shit simple for the user. The do not exist to make the web fair. Just usable. They do a damn good job of that. Governments have no right to even look into this. The search results are Googles OPINION!

        As Mike Muir once sang while with Infectious Grooves ..... "I hate stupid people!"

    • by Lazy Jones (8403)

      You're not ranked high because you're not relevant to the users' interest. 'Nuff said.

      Read this first: Foundem's Google story [searchneutrality.org] - by the way, I had to use Yahoo to get this link (first hit for "google foundem story", nowhere in sight when using Google).
      Regarding the duplicated content excuse Google is using: Foundem certainly contains product listings from other sites, but heavily modified (just like any price comparison site) and presented in a way that makes them differ enough, just like (or even more than) most news sites copying reuters press releases or blogs linking to other articles.

      • by makomk (752139)

        Read this first: Foundem's Google story - by the way, I had to use Yahoo to get this link (first hit for "google foundem story", nowhere in sight when using Google).

        That's an interesting spin, but actually the fact that Google do this to "vertical search" sites, "product comparison" sites and other such scum is part of the reason I like them. Back in the bad old days, when search engines were less useful, it was really frustrating to do a search and get back a bunch of links to search engines and aggregators of dubious quality, which you then had to go through in the vain hope that one of them had an actual link to a real site. I don't miss it.

        In fact, my main complain

        • by Lazy Jones (8403)

          Foundem have an interesting business model in general. It seems to revolve around Google failing at their core competency of internet search, and that feels like a really bad bet to me.

          Most major price comparison sites are older than Google and much older than Google's attempts to enter that market. Their aim is not to provide general search results in niches where Google sucks, but specifically to provide a good shopping/price research experience, just as on a hotel booking site the user will see different information, presented in a different way than by searching Google. Theoretically, in the long run Google could identify such searches (or train users to search differently) and prese

    • by Rifter13 (773076)

      You have not heard of Foundem because the MAN (Google in this case) keeps them DOWN. No other reason.

  • Was bound to happen (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Haedrian (1676506) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @10:03AM (#34387686)
    I'm pretty sure any company would have turned towards that in the end. I think the problem will be proving it. Since google know pretty much how their ranking algorithm works - I'm pretty sure they can design a site which always turns up top - without needing to 'cheat'.

    I'm not sure who's side I'm on this time. I mean, it'd be stupid if (say) you google something on Bing and you don't get the Microsoft solution first. I think it'd be weird if you look up "Shopping" and google shopping is at the bottom.
    • by ThePromenader (878501) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @10:11AM (#34387764) Homepage Journal

      I find your phrase 'google something on Bing' highly amusing - and very revealing of the actual market situation ; )

    • >>>it'd be stupid if (say) you search something on Bing, and you don't get the Microsoft solution first

      What search alternatives exist to the near-monopoly Google and Microsoft's Bing?

      • Hm - I'm getting tired of how the word 'Monopoly' is (ab)used sometimes:

        Majority != Monopoly.
        Best Product != Monopoly.
        Most Used != Monopoly.

        And to answer your question: Yahoo, Windows Live and Baidu are within the world's top ten most-visited websites.

        • >>>Majority != Monopoly.

          I said "near" monopoly and 80% or higher certainly qualifies. In the U.S. 80% is high enough to amend the highest law of the land - the constitution. 80% was high enough to break-up Standard Oil and ATT.

          Anyway I'm sold - http://blekko.com/ws/+/press-videos?h=1 [blekko.com]
          I used to use metacrawler which was once a decent engine
          "Windows Live" is different from Bing?

      • I use DuckDuckGo because it has a sane privacy policy, uses SSL by default, doesn't store anything user-identifiable in a cookie, has a nice UI (much nicer than Google's recent changes, which were what caused me to start considering alternatives), and generally returns relevant results. I fall back to Google if DDG doesn't give me an answer, but so far I've never found a search where Google then actually does give me something helpful (although it will happily give me a few hundred irrelevant pages).
    • by Idbar (1034346)
      I will go with the simpler explanation: While many other companies have struggled to come up with clever and attractive names for their products, Google only adds a simple word to their company name and voila, new product: Google "Talk", Google "Reader", Google "Voice", Google "Mail", Google "Shopping", Google "TV".

      If people look for simple terms, no matter the search algorithm, their results are highly likely to come up on top. I don't know many people that would use the word "messenger" natively for a c
    • I'm pretty sure any company would have turned towards that in the end. I think the problem will be proving it. Since google know pretty much how their ranking algorithm works - I'm pretty sure they can design a site which always turns up top - without needing to 'cheat'.

      That has to be one of the oddest definition of 'not cheating' I've ever heard. Using insider information is, almost universally, regarded as unfair competition if not cheating.

      I'm not sure who's side I'm on this time. I mean, it'd b

  • by makomk (752139) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @10:04AM (#34387698) Journal

    I really hope Google wins this one. Google search results are spammed with enough useless "price comparison" and "vertical search" sites as it is, their results really don't need any more - especially not forced upon them by Google. It's reached the point where it's very difficult to find actual reviews for certain products or sites selling them via Googling already, because the "vertical search" sites don't care about actually providing good information. (If you read Google's response [bbc.co.uk], the reason the company complaining got automatically downranked is because nearly all their content was duplicated - like many such sites, they offered absolutely nothing useful and were just sponging off their ability to draw people in by getting as high in the Google results as possible.)

    • by makomk (752139)

      Forced upon them by the EU, even.

    • by bradley13 (1118935) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @10:20AM (#34387902) Homepage

      Agreed - these price-comparison sites are almost universally leeches. They provide no added content, the contents are often out-of-date, and you can get the same functionality by just clicking on individual links in Google. I wish they would all go away. That said, I have never seen Google shopping come up in the results of a search for a product. I am always skipping over spammed results from other price comparison sites - not to mention eBay (I hate eBay). If Google is cheating, they surely are doing a lousy job of it :-)

      According to one article, Foundem is a case study in SEO fail [econsultancy.com]. Perhaps it's easier to sue than to fix your business concept.

      • by Shimbo (100005)

        Agreed - these price-comparison sites are almost universally leeches. They provide no added content, the contents are often out-of-date, and you can get the same functionality by just clicking on individual links in Google.

        There are some useful ones: e.g. car insurance, electricity and ISP comparison sites. However, they generally spend a lot of money on advertising, so you go to them direct. They aren't lame sites that think Google owes them a living.

      • As an avid user of Google Shopper (http://froogle.google.com), I honestly wish Google integrated it's results into searches for products. Being able to price compare *and* read reviews on one single page of results would be excellent.

      • by Lazy Jones (8403)

        Foundem is a case study in SEO fail

        Sorry to say, but that article was written by a clueless moron who just argues that any price comparison site must fail at SEO, which a) is obviously wrong and b) would mean that Google Products would also never warrant a top position since all its content is as problematic as the author wants to make us believe Foundem's is.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by makomk (752139)

          Sorry to say, but that article was written by a clueless moron who just argues that any price comparison site must fail at SEO, which a) is obviously wrong and b) would mean that Google Products would also never warrant a top position since all its content is as problematic as the author wants to make us believe Foundem's is.

          Google Products is actually much better. Compare this Foundem search [foundem.co.uk] and the per-product pages [foundem.co.uk] with Google Product [google.co.uk] and its per-product pages [google.co.uk]. The Google pages offer more useful information up-front, avoid redundant duplication, and are generally better designed.

          Even this probably wouldn't warrant a top position for Google Products on most searches, and it doesn't generally get one. What Google does is use it to supplement its search results - if you make a search where Google thinks the Products search resu [google.co.uk]

          • by Lazy Jones (8403)

            Google Products is actually much better. Compare this Foundem search and the per-product pages with Google Product and its per-product pages. The Google pages offer more useful information up-front, avoid redundant duplication, and are generally better designed.

            Your Google link didn't work. Yes, the product info on Google is better, but Foundem has a) better result filtering, b) a more user-oriented default sorting by price (Google sorts by "Relevance", which is silly on a per-product page and reeks of favoritism i.e. paid results first), c) pounds and not USD like Google, d) a price history, e) merchants from the UK as expected from a .co.uk site while Google has US merchants

            It's no wonder that Bing and ciao.co.uk have a much smaller marketshare than Google - they're useless.

            I would have no issues with it if I could believe that to be the reason, but with the f

            • by makomk (752139)

              Your Google link didn't work. Yes, the product info on Google is better, but Foundem has a) better result filtering,

              Yeah, it's interesting that Google hasn't enabled its support for narrowing down your selection on that page. On some of the other Google Products pages I've looked at, the results-narrowing feature is better than on many actual shopping sites. (I'm guessing there aren't enough distinct results for them to bother or something.)

              b) a more user-oriented default sorting by price (Google sorts by "Relevance", which is silly on a per-product page and reeks of favoritism i.e. paid results first),

              That actually struck me as quite clever. The first results on Google by relevance are from sellers like Dabs and Amazon, which have a very good reputation over here. On the other hand

              • by Lazy Jones (8403)

                The first results on Google by relevance are from sellers like Dabs and Amazon, which have a very good reputation over here. On the other hand, the top Foundem results include companies I'd be reluctant to do business with. No idea how Google managed that.

                Amazon will be paying through the associates program, whether dabs is paying or not I don't know, but it seems likely. The question is, does it say anywhere on Google that those companies are "relevant" because they are known to be more reputable, or does it say nothing because there are factors involved that would not seem to be objective?

                Something odd must be going on for you.

                I just clicked on your links. I am not located in the UK though (and not in the US either).

  • Yawn (Score:4, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @10:06AM (#34387708)

    "There is a growing chasm between the enduring public perception of Google's search results as comprehensive and impartial...

    Impartiality Checklist
    [ ] Do they make money doing it?
    [ ] Do they support a political candidate, viewpoint, or party?
    [ ] Is what they're doing taxable?
    [ ] Do they claim to know the truth, as opposed to still searching for it?

    Note: If you checked any of the boxes, you can be certain they are not impartial.

    • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

      In all fairness, Google does make money by prioritizing their shopping site over other comparison sites. While they don't have AdSense on the shopping site, it does enhance brand.

      Usually, I get the google comparison as the third "non-paid" result. That is about right most of the time. Sure beats getting Nextag or Ebay results, although I do sometimes miss the more obscure ones.

      Sites that don't add value shouldn't be ranked highly. That added value might be subjective and have various conflicts of intere

  • Anti-corporation sounds like a sound government policy to me. Or is it just anti-american corporations (microsoft, oracle, google) and pro-europe (opera). Hard to tell?

    Now if the EU can just stop the Euro from collapsing, it would be pretty close to paradise. "Where liberty lives, there is my country." - Ben Franklin

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Haedrian (1676506)
      I've heard the "Pro-europe" argument once or twice. The best response I found is that Opera is Norwegian which isn't in the EU.
    • by sznupi (719324)

      Most of such investigations, fines levied, etc. are against European companies...

      And from the looks of this one, they simply have to start an investigation when receiving a proper formal compliant. It might very well not go anywhere afterwards.

  • I thought you paid to be listed first... what's impartial about it to begin with?
  • by bckspc (172870)

    I'm all in favor of impartial media, but is there some law in the EU that requires search engines to show impartial rankings?

    • by ledow (319597)

      Nope. But it could be seen as anticompetitive. There doesn't have to be a specific written law against everything imaginable - a lot of laws are generic enough that they can be extended by case law etc. to actually incorporate lots of "new" things.

      • by cob666 (656740)
        Of course it might be CONSIDERED anti-competitive but I believe that a publicly traded company has a fiduciary responsibility to it's shareholders. Google should just display a disclaimer that it's search results are in no way meant to be completely free of bias and that in some cases Google sponsored or affiliated sites will be closer to the top of the listing. But, that would mess with the sterile look of the initial search page. I personally have no problem with Google showing sites that it has interes
        • With Great Power Comes Great Responsiblity.

          The key complaint is that Google has now become so powerful and leading that consumers believe and trust it. The reality is that Google now has such a huge impact that it is starting to effect markets, and businesses, as such it is in the interest of European consumers that the company be regulated.

          We have a number of consumer protection laws that most Americans have not heard of, such as requiring that all products sold with subscriptions must include the full and

  • by dclozier (1002772) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @10:17AM (#34387850)

    Ciao was bought by Microsoft in 2008 for nearly $500m (£324m) and is now called Ciao Bing, after Microsoft’s search engine. Foundem is a member of ICOMP, an internet pressure group which receives funding from Microsoft.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/7301299/Google-under-investigation-for-alleged-breach-of-EU-competition-rules.html [telegraph.co.uk]

    This is just more of the same from Microsoft when trying to compete.

    • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

      That's a pretty weak link. I belong to an organization that Microsoft gives money to as well. It's called IEEE. Does that mean I shouldn't use IEEE-1000?

  • Likely outcome (Score:3, Informative)

    by RevWaldo (1186281) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @10:54AM (#34388256)
    1) Google makes it explicitly clear that its services are being pushed to the top of the results - say a section labeled "Google services" on an off-white background, much like it does with sponsored results.

    2) End users aren't bothered by this in the least, and Google profits go up another notch.

    .
    • by weicco (645927)

      I'm not sure if Google can be thought to have monopoly on search markets, and I'm too lazy to read about the case, but if EU thinks so the rules will change. Just like Microsoft was forced to provide browser choice dialog with Windows although one would presume that Windows comes with Internet Explorer.

  • Web directories (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RevWaldo (1186281) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @11:24AM (#34388656)
    It's a pity web directories such as the Open Directory Project [dmoz.org] have fallen by the wayside in the mind of the general public. (Alexa ranks dmoz at No. 460.) If a web directory had the same personal investment end users worldwide give Wikipedia it could provide a useful alternative to algorithm-based search engines. Although Wikipedia already is a web directory of sorts, with links to relevant sites at the end of articles, as well as numerous "list of" articles [wikipedia.org] pointing to sites you might never encounter searching through Google.

    .
    • by hey (83763)

      I agree. I still like dmoz.

    • This is an important point. Google's algorithm was fantastic for a long time, but it's way too easy to game the system now. Some of the highest-quality content on the web doesn't show up in its search results because of its stupid page-rank algorithm. I've started looking to delicious.com for quality links lately because I know humans have evaluated the content semantically and bookmarked it because it's useful and of good quality, not because some spammer posted links to it all over the web or because peop
    • by Lazy Jones (8403)

      It's a pity web directories such as the Open Directory Project have fallen by the wayside in the mind of the general public.

      Have you ever tried to get a site with, say, 1 million page views monthly (it's not much, but more than many sites listed there), listed on dmoz? The maintainers seem to have gone in hibernation mode mostly, you can wait for months for any kind of reply. No wonder it's all outdated / useless info ...

  • You'd think the page rank of and *.google.com domain would have a pretty good page rank. Lots of links to it.

  • I didn't read TFA, but WTF is a search ranking? Is it some universal standard governed by laws and some ISO committee? I was always under the impression that it was an arbitrary number computed by the search engine to order results. I've also always assumed that the search ranking value was a function of multiple factors including the "how much do we want to see this at the top of the list" value.
  • by Posting=!Working (197779) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @01:57PM (#34391296)

    Why wouldn't Google push their own products to the front of search results? Are they barred from doing what we would expect from every other company in the world to do? Why is this investigated? Why does anyone consider this illegal, amoral, or wrong in any way? They can't promote their own products on their own website - Why the hell not?

    They are not a nonprofit impartialsearch.org, they're not the government shoving this down our throats, they're a large corporation that is completely optional to use. There is no reason to expect their own products not to be first in every related search. There are Google logos on every page - it's not deceptive, you know who is providing this information. There is nothing illegal or wrong about this in any way, shape or form. It's companies with crappy products that lose money politicking/suing Google because they have money - That is the total sum of these stories. There's no rights violations, illegal activities or sketchy dealings here, just unmitigated greed and a failed political/legal system.

    If Google didn't do this, if you searched for "Email" on Google and the first result was Hotmail, everyone would think they're complete idiots - employees, users, advertisers and competitors.

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