When Google was originally created by Larry Paige and Sergey Brin in March 1998 they had no idea what the company would become but they most definitely did have a vision. Back then their vision was to systematically index the World Wide Web in the most efficient way possible.
The idea that Larry and Sergey came up with was originally known as Backrub and involved the ranking of various Internet pages based on the other pages that linked to them. The idea behind this was simple – if lots of pages linked to one particular page then that page must have valuable information available and so it would be ranked higher than others.
It would be fair to say that this idea, combined with an unparalleled amount of mathematical genius really took off and is what ultimately led Google to become the search giant that it is today.
The company have always had very high values and maintained that everything they have done is for the direct benefit of the end user and there real vision involves the fair and impartial indexing of the world’s Internet to provide the most accurate results to the end user for any query that they may type in.
Warped results for financial gain
These morals have recently come into question when Google were officially accused of warping the results for their own financial gain.
In fact there have been many companies making these accusations against Google for quite a few years but only recently did the FTC get involved which really gave credit to the accusations.
Over a 19 month review by the FTC they produced a report that detailed their findings and confirmed that Google had in fact deployed anti-competitive strategies for their own financial gain.
Promoting their own services over others
One of the key findings of the report was the fact that Google had used its algorithm to rank its own services above others. Of course there wouldn’t necessarily be anything wrong with this if it was done naturally and within the parameters of the ranking algorithm in place at the time. Unfortunately this was not the case – it was found that Google had warped its own algorithm to ensure that it would come out above other competing service providers even though that would not normally have been the case had the algorithm been left alone.
Another finding of the report confirmed that google had also been scraping information from competitors for its own use and inclusion within its search engine. Scraping is a term often used in an online content and describes the practice of procuring and downloading information from the Internet using automated means.
Google employed this scraping technology against Yelp amongst others in order to procure information for display within its search engine results effectively cutting the information owners out of the loop.
When Google were approached by companies whose information they had scraped, they were threatened with de-indexation from the search engines – in other words complete removal from the results which would have had even greater financial implications for the companies involved.
The Outcome of these investigations
The FTC confirmed that these practices did take place in their report although Google themselves insist that there was no demand for them to change any of the ranking algorithms and strategies that they deploy so they are effectively absconding themselves form any blame.
Google’s responsibility in Search
Some may argue that Google are a business like any other – they invested the search engine and they did not force anyone to use it – least of all the businesses that are ranked high up within the engine for which many of them reap great rewards. Looking at it from this stand point it’s easy to side with Google and assume that they are really doing nothing wrong – it is after all their software and surely they can do what they like with it.
The complication comes from the fact that Google hold a monopoly over search – they are by far the biggest contender when it comes to Internet search and therefor have a great power over results and over what the end user or the consumer sees when they browse the Internet.
With this great power also comes great responsibility – after all, Google can present whatever information they want to the end user so surely they have a responsibility to make sure that they are genuinely presenting the most useful information to that user rather than results that are tailored to their own gain.
Are Google moving away from search and into service provision?
The other very important element to all of this is that subtle move that Google seem to be making. Google have started to show more and more answers and direct information to the end user where they would traditionally only show search results.
A good example of this would be flight times – say for example you type this search query into Google:
Flight from Edinburgh to Glasgow
Most people might assume that this would return popular flight companies such as EasyJet or British Airways but actually Google simply display the information that the end user is likely searching for – times of flights.
On one level this may seem like an obvious step – it’s good for the user as they don’t need to click to see this information; it’s there for them as soon as they hit the search button.
However this move away from directory listings to information display means that Google are changing and more and more their motivation is going to be the display of those results by itself rather than listing the closet matching websites.
This may be financially beneficial for Google in the short term but it could lead to their demise in the long term and perhaps it could be the undoing of Google.
Perhaps as Google become more and more obsessed with presenting information direct to the end user there will be another new and more efficient search engine that stays true to its name and begins producing far better results than Google. Only time will tell.