I’ve always been a fan of Google. A naturally inquisitive person — I’m a reporter, remember? — I often use Google to look up random, useless information. My boyfriend and I recently debated the release date of Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places,” for instance, and Google helped us resolve the issue. But learning more about paid placement and search advertising has made me question the results I get, as well as Google’s dominance in the search business.
And apparently I’m not the only one to do so. A Reuters report indicates that the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies are questioning Google’s dominance, too, and investigating whether the company has violated antitrust laws.
According to the report, Google is the top text-based search ad provider, despite backing out of a deal with Yahoo last year after federal regulators indicated they would oppose the deal. Bert Foer, head of the American Antitrust Institute, noted that Google has not done anything wrong. It’s natural for people to challenge Google, however, as those ads bring in a great deal of money. Criticism and skepticism often comes with the territory when you’re at the top of your game, no matter what it is.
“It’s not that it’s bad or poorly intentioned,” said Foer. “It’s playing such a large role in the flow of information and has so much free cash to play with and so many creative and aggressive ideas that it presents potential problems regarding… privacy and competition.”
My newfound skepticism of Google has even extended to its news content. I often use Google to scour the Web for the latest news on work-related topics, but now I wonder if it really gives me the most relevant results or if I simply get the top advertisers’ stories. What about images? I’ve used Google to find images to post on this blog. Are there better images I might find elsewhere? Am I just getting the images provided by Google’s top advertisers? Who knows…
This is exactly what’s wrong with paid placement and paid inclusion. It raises questions and concerns that wouldn’t existed if search engines advertising strategies were completely clear and transparent.