Google in the News...
And Its Policy on Search Engine Results
Over the years we've seen a lot of Google in the news from
publications like Forbes, The Economist and the New York Times.
Broadband access has made the Net indispensable for obtaining information for day-to-day living. We can now conduct business and learn anything and everything we want with the click of a mouse. When we log on, the majority choice for a search engine is Google. This has had a profound influence on our everyday activities and why we see Google in the news so frequently.
Google's algorithm is the topic of much conversation online and off. The algorithm is the computational program behind the search engine that determines how sites get ranked. The higher a site's ranking, the more traffic it receives and the more income-earning potential it has.
Scammers are constantly looking for ways to game the algorithm. They reason that if they can decipher the algorithm's secrets, they can manipulate rankings and reap profits. Google is constantly battling scammers and spammers who abuse its functions, reducing the quality of search results.
Unless you're one of these scammers, chances are you don't object to Google's stance on search quality. Spam sites are responsible for everything from presenting annoying, time-wasting content to installing malware on your system. There is nothing more irritating than trying to find movie showtimes online only to have to wade through page after page of junk or to be hit with a virus while doing your homework.
Manual Tweaks vs. Algorithmic Changes
Entire networks can be built up by these scammers, making
manual tweaks by Google fruitless. Tweak one, and dozens more take its
place. In cases where techniques have become widespread, it is
understandable that Google would want to handle them with a sweeping
algorithmic change, rather than manually tweaking them out of
existence. One can certainly sympathize with the search engine giant on
matters such as this.
Google has a responsibility to its customers (surfers and advertisers) to present the highest quality search results possible. To date, no one has enforced its algorithmic improvements. It goes without saying that if search results deteriorate, advertising dollars will decline which will in turn incite share holders to apply pressure for cleanup.
Make no mistake. Regardless of its public stance on neutrality, free speech and lack of censorship, Google's motivations can be traced to money. Which makes sense because it is a commercial enterprise after all.
With the ability to algorithmically choose which sites and what content is ranked above others, there is no doubt that this one company wields staggering power. As it expands, that power expands as well. With all that far-reaching influence, are the interests of advertisers and shareholders really as far as its responsibilities extend?
There are accounts of Google in the news where it has tried to deny responsibility for issues based on its "greater good" reasoning. Its policy says, ". . . we do not remove a page from our search results simply because its content is unpopular or because we receive complaints concerning it."
But Google owns the algorithm and is presumably the only entity with access to it. So if it isn't at least partially responsible for its impact on the world, who is? If Starbucks can be held reasonably accountable for deaths over tip jar robberies, the moral cross-hairs for damage caused by the malicious use of Google's algorithm should certainly be aimed in its direction.
Obviously, it can't control who is using its product or when, but this is a company that logs every digit generated on the Net. It has pictures of our houses, our cars and records our passwords and footprints on the Web. With that much control, it can certainly control and circumvent its use for malicious purposes.
Its public statement that it doesn't make manual changes is false and an obvious way to avoid responsibility. The fact is that it can make manual changes and has. It just doesn't want to admit it.
Examples of Manual Changes By Google
There are several accounts of Google in the news, where manual
changes should have occurred and did.
In 2009, free speech was the rope that tied Google's hands when an altered photo of Michelle Obama portrayed her online as a monkey. The racist image enraged millions, but Google refused to act.
Instead it ran ads and issued public statements. “Sometimes Google search results from the Internet can include disturbing content, even from innocuous queries. We assure you that the views expressed by such sites are not in any way endorsed by Google . . . We apologize if you've had an upsetting experience . . . We hope you understand our position regarding offensive results."
Google didn't put the images there so any upset experienced would not be for that. The apology is for allowing the images to remain. It’s the calm, aloof, nothing-can-be-done-about-it attitude the company exudes that causes the upset.
However, a subsequent report of Google in the news indicated a change of heart on the matter. On November 25, 2009, CNN.com reported that the image had been removed from Google's search results and the matter resolved.
Another case of Google in the news proves it can make
exceptions to its nothing-we-can-do-about-it policy when it wants to.
On November 28, 2010 the New York Times published a lengthy expose on search results manipulation by a site called Decormyeyes.com. The malicious tactics involved the use of insults and the vile treatment of customers, who, in outrage, inadvertently spread mention of the site across the Internet. The story exploded when one woman was threatened by the site owner in an email that displayed an image of her home. That image was obtained from Google Earth.
Three days later, the New York Times published a follow up to the Decormyeyes.com article. The site was removed from the search results and Google, the champion who saved the day.
The fact is, at any time of any day, one can find published and freely distributed black hat materials on the Net. Simple, step-by-step instructions on how to manipulate Google to get high rankings are widely available. The rules are given away on sites, blogs and in forums or are sold in ebooks for a fee. The purveyors of the tips always profit financially from distributing the knowledge.
Besides the attack on SiteSell, as outlined on this site (go to the beginning of the story here on the Site Build It Scam home page), there are countless other examples of how black hat techniques are used to maliciously use Google's algorithm as a weapon. Whether it be online "pranks," unfair competitive practices or unethical uses by merchants, the condoning of black hat practices is damaging to online business and Google should act to prevent it.
Why Doesn’t Google Hire An Investigative Team?
With profits in the billions of dollars, this company can
afford to hire humans to investigate online smears and cases of harmful
practices. The salaries for a unit of even 1,000 employees would hardly
register on their bottom line, but would make the Web more fair and a
There are many citings of Google in the news that substantiate Google's popularity. Its products are useful and valuable and nobody wants Google to go out of business. However, it is reaching a level of maturity where it needs to take ownership of the power it holds.
An extraordinary enterprise of Google's scope has a greater social responsibility than most. We will continue to highlight more stories of Google in the news to monitor its progress in this area.