Google Search Algorithm Eyed by Regulators

Company maintains that it has to keep some things secret

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Google's Marissa Mayer took to the pages of the Financial Times to argue against search engine regulation.

    Google is no stranger to criticism over its search results, but Vice President of Search Product and User Experience Marissa Mayer had to take to the pages of the Financial Times on Wednesday to argue on behalf of keeping the company's algorithm sauce a secret.

    In 2007, Google introduced a broader range of search results that included many of the company's other business, such as Google Maps, YouTube and Google News.

    Since then, companies producing competing protects complained that Google unfairly lists results from its own projects higher than theirs -- and there's some truth to it, since when was the last time you saw a link to Mapquest, once the pre-eminent online mapping service?

    With Google's purchase of airline price tracker ITA, it may not be long before Expedia or Travelocity meet Mapquest's fate.

    Engineers at Google tweak the algorithm daily, according to Mayer, and a small tweak can me a big gain or loss for sites. The company argues that it has to keep the details as to how it calculates results a secret, or else it would be ruined by spammers.

    But in Europe, where Google can count 90 percent of the market share for search (compared to 70 percent in the United States), regulators are starting to listen to complaints from businesses affected by decisions made by engineers in Mountain View.

    Of course, criticisms from the likes of the New York Times and Financial Times aren't entirely made free from self-interest. Those publications, increasingly reliant on online readers, have a stake in how Google serves up results to their publications.

    "[P]roponents of search neutrality are effectively saying that they know what is “best” for you," Mayer argues, though of course all she's really concerned with is what's best for Google.

    Jackson West wonders if Dogpile meta-search is still around.