Jon (not-Stuart) Leibowitz was right to let Google off the hook

Those of you fortunate enough to be my friends on Facebook might not feel like it, but there are a lot of posts I’d like to write that never see the light of day. And so the whole process comes to feels a little bit like triage. In this analogy, posts end up falling into one of three general categories.

Some ideas are worth sharing, and — better — just sort of write themselves. Such posts command your attention and get written in a timely fashion and so enjoy a high survival rate.

Other ideas have some merit, but the internet is a big place and you can’t possibly help every patient. You’d be better off just letting those posts die* and spending your time elsewhere.

*Although they do, as you can see, occasionally pull it out.

And sometimes a post would take too much effort to do properly, but you can still share the nucleus of your idea with just minimal effort and let readers take that thought wherever they might. In this manner, good ideas are shelved in favor of shorter and sillier posts, or even become — through inattention and/or lack of effort —  same shorter and sillier posts. Think of this process as amputation.

This post comes to flesh out an idea I amputated almost exactly three weeks ago. On January 3, the Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement with Google, in which the FTC agreed to drop its 19-month antitrust investigation, and Google made some narrow concessions of its own. This post concerns one anti-trust charge in particular:

The FTC’s five commissioners voted unanimously to close without action on the core investigation into whether Google used a practice that its detractors called “search bias.”

“Although some evidence suggested that Google was trying to eliminate competition, Google’s primary reason for changing the look and feel of its search results to highlight its own products was to improve the user experience,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

“Search bias” encompasses “allegations that Google was misusing its dominant position in the U.S. online search market to disadvantage businesses that competed with Google in other areas.” For instance, if you google “maps” on Google, the first result is, well, Google maps — followed by Mapquest, Maps.com, and Bing:

Google maps

Clearly, Google is advantaging its own product over others.

Except that when you google “maps” on Bing, which has no interest in unfairly promoting Google products, the results come up strikingly similar:

Bing maps

It’s possible that Google Maps made its way to the top because Google once favored its own results, but I think it’s pretty safe to conclude that — as PageRank stands today — a quite legitimate and unbiased algorithm would unambiguously put Google ahead of the competition (and Maps.com).

OK, so it’s still the rough nucleus of an idea, but at least that Bing screenshot now has a higher atomic number.

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