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September 2012 Policy Study, Number 12-10


The Federal Trade Commission’s Investigation of Google


Remedies: Poison by Government



Even if the Federal Trade Commission were to find a violation of a law, what would it require Google to do? And would that be beneficial to Internet users?


Google’s competitors have suggested numerous remedies, including:[19]


• limiting Google’s ability to acquire other companies — a megaton prohibition that would essentially cripple Google’s ability to grow and develop, which is exactly what its competitors want.


• forbidding Google from displaying links, maps, and other web content in its answers to queries — which would make Google’s answers less useful to searchers.


• forbidding Google from making “fair-use” of other websites’ content — which completely reverses traditional copyright law.


• allowing regulators, in an attempt to make searches “neutral,” to require Google to change its algorithms when the regulators don’t like the results of a Google search — but what possible meaning can be ascribed to the term “neutral?”


• disclosing its algorithms.


An “algorithm” is just a ten-dollar word for a mathematical formula. Google tweaks its algorithms more than five hundred times a year in order to make its search engine produce better results for searchers.


There are several objections to requiring Google to disclose its algorithms. First, Google’s search algorithms are its intellectual property — like the secret formulas for Coca Cola and WD-40. Google spends millions of dollars researching and developing them. Is it reasonable to think Google (or any other company) would continue to invest in research and development that helps users if it were required to disclose every improvement it made?


Second, publishing the algorithms would make it easier for companies to game Google’s system and distort its search results, which would lower the quality of the results Google provides to searchers.


Third, the results that Google’s algorithms produce are, in the end, just Google’s scientific opinions of what searchers want to know. It would be difficult to claim, in a court of law, that there are correct answers and incorrect answers, or as we discussed earlier, superior answers and inferior answers. Who is capable of determining which answer is better, or correct, for millions of searchers?


As such, Google’s opinions, the results its algorithms produce, are as protected from government interference as a newspaper’s editorials.[20]


None of the suggested remedies would make searches more useful for Internet users. Consumers, apparently having a better sense of the value of free markets than government regulators, are overwhelmingly opposed to government interference in the search business. Seventy-nine percent said the federal government should not regulate the content or appearance of search engines and their results, and 76 percent thought more government involvement would make the Internet worse.[21]



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