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FTC: Google Altered Search Results For Profit 232

mi writes: We've always suspected that Google might tweak its search algorithms to gain an advantage over its rivals — and, according to an FTC investigation inadvertently shared with the Wall Street Journal, it did. Quoting: "In a lengthy investigation, staffers in the FTC's bureau of competition found evidence that Google boosted its own services for shopping, travel and local businesses by altering its ranking criteria and "scraping" content from other sites. It also deliberately demoted rivals. For example, the FTC staff noted that Google presented results from its flight-search tool ahead of other travel sites, even though Google offered fewer flight options. Google's shopping results were ranked above rival comparison-shopping engines, even though users didn't click on them at the same rate, the staff found. Many of the ways Google boosted its own results have not been previously disclosed.
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FTC: Google Altered Search Results For Profit

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  • I just don't care (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Friday March 20, 2015 @01:03PM (#49302619)

    Google isn't a monopoly, and search functionality isn't a public utility. Google never promised to have its page rankings work in a particular way.

    • by jythie ( 914043 ) on Friday March 20, 2015 @01:09PM (#49302691)
      You are thinking like a consumer, not a business owner. For consumers, sure they get worse results and can go elsewhere, but for business owners, the majority of their potential customers are going to use Google since it is the go-to for most people, thus it decreases your visibility and income. So it is a pretty big issue for people trying to reach an audience, which includes people who work for any company that has customers. Thus unless you're independently wealthy or work for a Google affiliated company, this probably affects you.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by pla ( 258480 )
        Still irrelevant - Google doesn't "owe" you free advertising.

        Google exists as a publicly-traded for-profit company. They "just happen" to provide a tool for free that lets you find things online, but they have absolutely no obligation to make that tool "fair". If they want to put things that make them money at the top of the list, they can.

        If they wanted to sort their search results by the number of cat references per result, they could do that, too. And none of us have the least right to complain ab
        • by itzly ( 3699663 ) on Friday March 20, 2015 @02:30PM (#49303691)

          but they have absolutely no obligation to make that tool "fair". If they want to put things that make them money at the top of the list, they can.

          As long as they comply with the anti-trust laws, which some experts didn't think was the case.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          ... and "Don't be Evil" turns into "Not obligated to do good".

          Actually if I "don't like it" I choose to be very vocal in forums and will make a lifetime of being a PR nightmare for google. If you don't like that then piss off.

      • by blang ( 450736 )

        Well, if you are going to compete against google, what makes you think google should be obliged to promote YOUR business above their own?

    • Re:I just don't care (Score:5, Interesting)

      by itzly ( 3699663 ) on Friday March 20, 2015 @01:12PM (#49302743)

      I care about getting good search results. Google choosing to put the better results lower in the ranking conflicts with that.

      I'd care even more if I was running a business that's competing with one of google's businesses.

      • I care about getting good search results. Google choosing to put the better results lower in the ranking conflicts with that.

        But Google doesn't do that, nor does the WSJ article imply it. Google chooses to add features to its search engine and sometimes those features, like embedded maps, rank higher than say MapQuest does. That's not putting "better results lower in the ranking", that's Google believing that an inline map works better than a link to another search engine where you get to re-enter your quer

    • by BarbaraHudson ( 3785311 ) <barbarahudson&gmail,com> on Friday March 20, 2015 @01:13PM (#49302763) Journal
      If it had been known that google was manipulating the search results to favor themselves, it would have been a huge credibility hit. From a business standpoint, it was a stupid move, not to mention that they violated the DBAD rule.
      • Like Bing and Yahoo? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by CrashNBrn ( 1143981 ) on Friday March 20, 2015 @01:43PM (#49303135)
        You mean like how Bing and Yahoo (powered by Bing, but not the same results) promote their own "versions" of things ahead of other search results?

        Search for CSS/HTML via Yahoo (the default in FF now) - you will get a slew of "MDN" (mozilla developer network) results, top-listed. Or how Bing promotes Bing Videos|Images instead of Google's?

        We're pretty much talking about Google top-listing ONE of their "own" results. That hardly affects any business, nor is it a credibility hit. Their own service/info is still relevant to the search at hand.

        I think we'd all be happier if Google would just stop ignoring our search terms.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          You mean like how Bing and Yahoo (powered by Bing, but not the same results) promote their own "versions" of things ahead of other search results?

          Protip: If you ever end up in traffic court, "I wasn't the only one speeding" is not a recommended defense.

          • However, when you are pulled over saying to the officer, 'I was not watching my speed, but I was moving with traffic', may well prevent you from ever having to appear in traffic court in the first place

            • However, when you are pulled over saying to the officer, 'I was not watching my speed, but I was moving with traffic', may well prevent you from ever having to appear in traffic court in the first place

              As soon as you admit you weren't watching your speed, you're toast. You've admitted that you weren't watching your speed. That's why the first question they ask you is "Do you know how fast you were going?"

              • by blue9steel ( 2758287 ) on Friday March 20, 2015 @02:35PM (#49303723)

                As soon as you admit you weren't watching your speed, you're toast. You've admitted that you weren't watching your speed. That's why the first question they ask you is "Do you know how fast you were going?"

                To which the correct answer is "I would have liked to but it was impossible since I knew exactly where I was."

            • My wife was given a ticket. She was traveling the highway with a cluster of other cars. When she asked why she was singled out the officer said "You ever go fishing? You ever catch every fish in the pond?" No, moving with the traffic won't do you any good. Trying to debate your way out will do you ill. You were speeding, that's it.
          • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

            There are laws that set the speed limit on a road. What laws would prevent Google from favoring its own services in search results? It's their services, it's their search engine, it's their search results.

            A better question is, why wouldn't Google favor their own services?

          • Which law is in violation that google would be in court over?

      • If it had been known that google was manipulating the search results to favor themselves, it would have been a huge credibility hit.

        How did you not know??? Seriously? It's a given that their own sites take precedence in the results.

        This is a far cry from what Yahoo was doing ten years ago when they were ranking search results that were only tangentially related to your search because 3rd parties paid them to.

      • If it had been known that google was manipulating the search results to favor themselves, it would have been a huge credibility hit.

        Why, didn't you assume that already? I know I did.

    • by Kaenneth ( 82978 )

      And yet /. hates Microsoft for having it's 'Monopoly'

    • by ttsai ( 135075 ) on Friday March 20, 2015 @01:38PM (#49303063)

      The issue isn't one of market share, although 75% is definitely at least dominant. We're talking about monopolies in the sense of Microsoft and Intel, neither of which is a government-granted monopoly. The key is whether Google has a coercive monopoly that is able to restrain competition and operate without fear of competition. Near 100% market share is not necessary. That Google is able to employ such tactics with the implicit understanding that its customers will not abandon it for a competitor argues that it has coercive monopoly power. Whether this situation arises due to Google's ability or its competitors' incompetency does not detract from the coercive nature of Google's market position.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Google isn't a monopoly, and search functionality isn't a public utility. Google never promised to have its page rankings work in a particular way.

      They have a monopoly over the search bar that's dead center at the top of phone that I'm not allowed to remove under penalty of law. So yes, they are.

      • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

        Blame that on your phone maker. My Galaxy S4 running a Google Edition rom I can move the search bar where ever I want, or even remove it.

      • No they don't, unless you're using a custom operating system. I installed the Bing app and disable Google services on my old Galaxy Nexus (which runs an official Google version of Android) and now that search box searches using Bing.

        In fact it's kinda annoying, because I didn't do either of those in order to get that result (wanted to try the Bing app at one point and happened to have it on my phone, and in an entirely unrelated process was having problems with my handsfree and found the only way to cut

    • Google is a business. those other guys are competitors. "mine is better and cheaper." Flo had to get the idea from someplace for that riffleboard.

    • by Jaime2 ( 824950 )

      Google never promised to have its page rankings work in a particular way.

      This is the Federal Trade Commission. They issue fines for things like weight loss ads that present a highly one-sided narrative of the product, or to telcom companies that sell unlimited data services that have limits. They have the power to declare a practice deceptive and fine for it, even if the practice is legal.

    • A free market would care, because the players in the market need information to make efficient decisions between suppliers and their products.

    • I was under the definite impression that Google did make a promise to deliver the most relevant search results. It's still on their support page:

      "When a user enters a query, our machines search the index for matching pages and return the results we believe are the most relevant to the user. Relevancy is determined by over 200 factors, one of which is the PageRank for a given page. PageRank is the measure of the importance of a page based on the incoming links from other pages. In simple terms, each link

  • Well no shit! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pecosdave ( 536896 ) on Friday March 20, 2015 @01:07PM (#49302669) Homepage Journal

    Are we going to investigate Amazon for presenting a stupid assed Kindle Fire as the first result whenever I search for "Nexus 9" on their engine next?

    • Sure, if they did that. But they don't when I check.
      • Recent change, I assure you. If you search for "Bluetooth Mouse" the third result is a non-Bluetooth Amazon basics mouse.

        Bluetooth means not having to have a stupid dongle for everything you connect to your system! Not "Wireless with a USB port taken".

        • by itzly ( 3699663 )

          The amazon mouse is the #1 best seller, though, and it's wireless. Likewise, if you search for bluetooth keyboard, the 3rd result is a non-bluetooth logitech wireless keyboard, which is also the #1 best seller.

        • That's because their search system is crap. You ask for a Bluetooth Mouse, they'll search for anything that has Bluetooth, Mouse, or the word "The" in it (yes, I know you didn't type "The" - that's how stupid it is) It's a rare day I search for anything and more than 50% of the first page of searches actually relate to what I wanted - as in, at the very least, have all the keywords I specified.

          It has nothing to do with Amazon Basics, which I doubt even makes Amazon any more money than their regular inven

    • Re:Well no shit! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by hjf ( 703092 ) on Friday March 20, 2015 @01:23PM (#49302881) Homepage

      Have we forgotten the whole MS Antitrust fiasco? You remember that Microsoft WAS FINED because they bundled a fucking WEB BROWSER with their OS and made it the default, right? MS didn't force anyone to use it.

      And yet, on iOS you can only use the bundled one and nothing else.

      LOL. And Microsoft is still evil.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Yebyen ( 59663 )

        Microsoft also not only had(has) the #1 best-selling operating system in the world, it also _sells_ it. For money, to customers who buy it (sometimes indirectly, to many of whom are people that don't realize they had another choice.) People come to Google for their search, just like people come to Google for their other services, but nobody pays for search. Just like every other company that provides a multitude of services, including some loss-leaders, tries to promote their other profit-making services

        • by hjf ( 703092 )

          If you think "no one pays for google" I have a bridge to sell you.

          • by Yebyen ( 59663 )

            Who pays for the Google search web service?

            I'll admit, this page is amusing in the context of this discussion: honestresults.html [google.com]

            I know plenty of people pay Google, some pay for hosting of their business services, some pay for advertising placement in search results, but does anyone pay Google for Web Search (as a consumer of web search results?)

      • on iOS you can only use the bundled one and nothing else.

        It's a little less simple than that. On iOS you have to use Apple's browser engine. You are free[1] to wrap your own user interface around it, like for example Google's Chrome does. As a user I don't care much about the browser engine; it's like whining that mobile phones use USB to charge.

        [1] free as in what Apple allows in its app store

        • Wrong. You can use a deprecated engine which is limited slow and inferior. So all those who want to compete with iOS cannot have a level playing field.

      • Only because they abused a monopoly position. iOS is not a monopoly (less than 50% market share). Neither is Google. There's no issue with Google placing there results at the top of a list. The issue would be if they misrepresented the results as being the most relevant based on an unbiased algorithm. Clearly most of us on /. *suspected* that the algorithm was biased, but they never disclosed it and it's fair to say that a least *some* people may have been confused by the misleading practice.
      • Re:Well no shit! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Friday March 20, 2015 @02:30PM (#49303699)

        And yet, on iOS you can only use the bundled one and nothing else.

        I don't think anyone can accuse iOS's shrinking marketshare of being a monopoly. They're currently second and they will stay second for a long time.

      • Microsoft was only fined in Europe. In America nothing much happened. Also: the fines were iirc not for bundling of the web browser but rather, the things they did to stop PC makers also including Netscape. Like threatening to punish them financially if they supported a competitor. That's a lot more cut and dried. You're right that bundling web browsers with operating systems was clearly the right move in hindsight and in practice Netscape might have been toast anyway. But maybe not: alternative browsers ar

        • In the US they got away with murder, most likely because they gave the feds any piece of data and every back door they could dream of.

      • What about the lawsuits where no one else could have a browser installed in windows upon purchase? Or that you can't get a PC without paying for Windows whether you intended to use it with Windows or not?

      • And yet, on iOS you can only use the bundled one and nothing else.

        Opera Mini [apple.com], released 2010, and Opera Coast [apple.com], released 2014
        Google Chrome [apple.com], released 2012
        News regarding Firefox [mozilla.org], due for release at some point soon

        iOS requires that if you use a browser engine in iOS, it must be their version of WebKit for iOS, which is how Chrome and Coast work, but there are ways around even that, and there's nothing stopping you from building a better browser than theirs on top of their engine, which is exactly what others have done. Additionally, Opera Mini gets around the engine issue by

  • G have been slowly creeping to the dark side for some time now. Everything is about profit, like any corporation, and there's nothing truly free even when they hand it to you gift-wrapped. And to top it off they are more than happy to use the media to toss aside the FTC's original case dismissal and settlement, when in fact it's pretty clear they did abuse their search power. G is a monopoly. You know it. I know it. We refuse to change our habits and as such continue to empower them.

    People rallied agains
    • Everything is about profit, like any corporation

      Like PETA, the Sierra Club, and the Corporation For Public Broadcasting?

      it's pretty clear they did abuse their search power

      No, it's pretty clear only that you're asserting that, and don't consider it appropriate for people to start a company, write their own software, offer it to you to use at no charge to you in the way they see fit. How awful! Let me guess, you just came from a post graduate seminar on "triggering," and having a company sort their search results as they please brought back a traumatic memory of not understanding the Dewey Decimal System

  • I've been complaining for a few years now - the last five or so, google search returns a much worse signal-to-noise ratio. And they keep taking away search tools, *and* theyve begun ignoring search criteria. Just last year, I was looking for high leather men's boots, with criteria of -"ladies" -"womens"... and among other things, saw a sponsored ad (a *complete* waste of the advertiser's money) that had "womens/bold" in the text.

    So much technical computer info is buried in rubble....

                    mark

    • That might actually be an artifact of the same bugs that caused Google recently to embarassingly change searches like "famous female scientists" into "Searching instead for 'famous male scientists'. Click here to search for 'famous female scientists'"

      There appears to be a lot of crap in Google's algorithms they're still trying to dig out that assumes synonyms of completely opposite words. Which is one of the many reasons why Google's searches tend to be miss rather than hit nine times in ten these days.

  • The FTC is seeming to suggest that it would be more proper for the Apple store to introduce customers looking to buy an office PC to Microsoft offerings first because they have a larger market share. Or Verizon to show plans from TMobile ahead of their own because they're more economical.

    Just because Google happens to offer services that incorporate non-Google offerings doesn't mean they don't have a right to serve their own interests. If I'm using Google I expect to be shown Google offerings. If I'm usi

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by itzly ( 3699663 )

      The FTC is seeming to suggest that it would be more proper for the Apple store to introduce customers looking to buy an office PC to Microsoft offerings first

      The Apple store is not an internet search engine. Your analogy makes no sense.

      • I think you need to work on your abstraction skills. "Search" is a product just as much as a "PC" is a product.
        • by itzly ( 3699663 )

          Apple stores are designed for selling Apple products. Anybody walking in such a store knows this. Apple doesn't even try to pretend to be selling a wide range of brands.

    • No that is not what the FTC is saying. Google's business is to search websites. They are intentionally downgrading the quality of the search for their competitors. Apple store does not in any way claim to offer non-apple products.

      The fact that you don't see that indicates your knowledge of economics and business is severely lacking.

      Nor is it 'nice' that Google shows non-competioros offerings, it is a REQUIREMENT to running a search service. A search service that only shows your own products is not a s

      • Nor is it 'nice' that Google shows non-competioros offerings, it is a REQUIREMENT to running a search service. A search service that only shows your own products is not a search service, it is a search function for your products.

        Forgive me but what law or regulation defines that as a requirement?

        No one is saying that Google can't serve their own interests. What they are saying is that Google must first serve their customers interests, than their own interests.

        That is a nice idea--for the customer. However, this anti-capitalistic idea doesn't have a leg to stand on, especially in the US. Neither is it routinely and commonly practiced nor is it enforced. In practice a business first serves its shareholders, the scraps and trimmings go to the customers.

        • by itzly ( 3699663 )

          Forgive me but what law or regulation defines that as a requirement?

          That would be covered under the US antitrust laws. There are several: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U... [wikipedia.org]

          However, this anti-capitalistic idea doesn't have a leg to stand on

          It's not anti-capitalistic to enforce an equal playing field. And apparently, the experts of the FTC thought they had a leg to stand on.

          • by McFly777 ( 23881 )

            Forgive me but what law or regulation defines that as a requirement?

            That would be covered under the US antitrust laws. There are several: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U... [wikipedia.org]

            Google may be big, but it isn't that big. IMHO. Nor has it colluded with competitors to set prices.
            As to the first concept (effective monopoly) I go to Bing all the time, for various reasons. Sometimes, I have searched Google first, and am looking for a different ranking algorithm, in order to see if I can find other high quality links which Google missed somehow. Sometimes, I just like Bing's presentation. Sometimes, I don't have any reason at all. Even though I tend to go to Google first, I know other p

      • Google's business is to search websites.

        Sorry, that is incorrect. Google's business is selling context sensitive advertising space, providing free search to consumers merely gives them additional means to do so.

  • Talk about a lesser of two evils....

  • My surprise overwhelms me. Just, how could they? I mean...I'm speechless
  • surprised? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by shadowrat ( 1069614 ) on Friday March 20, 2015 @01:26PM (#49302917)
    ever notice how the products recommended for your car just happen to be made by the same company that made the car? Ever notice how the manual for your new hiking boots claims they will work best with the leather sealant made by the same company? Ever notice how the helpful recipes found on the packaging of food items happen to have ingredients that all come from the same food company? why would anybody expect anything different?
    • ever notice how the products recommended for your car just happen to be made by the same company that made the car? Ever notice how the manual for your new hiking boots claims they will work best with the leather sealant made by the same company? Ever notice how the helpful recipes found on the packaging of food items happen to have ingredients that all come from the same food company? why would anybody expect anything different?

      50 wrongs don't make a right. Consumers have always expected the manufacturers of their products to give them honest advice about how to care for their products and not to use their position as the manufacturer to force you into situations that actually harm your own interests. The fact that most businesses abuse that expectation does not make it any less egregious that Google has followed in their footsteps.

      One of the best examples is Transmission oil... The differences between Manufacturer and After marke

      • Consumers have always expected the manufacturers of their products to give them honest advice about how to care for their products and not to use their position as the manufacturer to force you into situations that actually harm your own interests.

        Lol, since when?

  • by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Friday March 20, 2015 @01:37PM (#49303055)

    Of course they boost their own interests.
    They're in business and they're only human.
    Well, actually, just about any species would do it.
    It's the natural order.

  • Oh, right - because they're a private, for-profit company and not a government agency or public utility.
    • by itzly ( 3699663 )

      They weren't allowed, that's why there was an anti-trust probe.

      • They weren't allowed, that's why there was an anti-trust probe.

        Please cite the court documents that found Google to be a monopoly, and which defines their obligations to write their search engine routines against their own interests as the owners and operators of that service. Be specific, so that we don't have to guess where you got the court order and related documents.

  • (You'll have to picture it in your mind - /. doesn't like ASCII art)
  • Google has been censoring searches relating to firearms for years now. Here's an article from 2012:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/fr... [forbes.com]

    I love Google and most of their products, but they are far from impartial providers of a search service.

  • by jlv ( 5619 ) on Friday March 20, 2015 @02:51PM (#49303907)

    This just in: FTC discovers that Macy's employees really don't refer their shoppers to Gimbels.

  • Or the ones below that?

    Because if google is screwing with the links below the 'advertised" pit then that is a bit fucked up.

    I wouldn't throw hand cuffs on them for that. Its totally legal. But it is misrepresentation because the implication is that they're not doing that.

    I'm happy with them doing it so long as they're open about it.

  • by LodCrappo ( 705968 ) on Friday March 20, 2015 @03:20PM (#49304121) Homepage

    Why would anyone assumed they weren't using their search engine to promote their services? Why shouldn't they, for that matter? It seems like common sense for Google to do this and for users to expect this.

Of course you can't flap your arms and fly to the moon. After a while you'd run out of air to push against.

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