Google vs. SearchKing

One of the big stories that has been circulating recently is the legal wranglings between Google and SearchKing. In a reading some of the commentary on the case there were several aspects that interested me, especially peoples seeming willingness to turn search engines into regularised utility companies. This subject has already been covered elsewhere:

Google is so important to the web these days, that it probably ought to be a public utility. Regulatory interest from agencies such as the FTC is entirely appropriate, but we feel that the FTC addressed only the most blatant abuses among search engines. Google, which only recently began using sponsored links and ad boxes, was not even an object of concern to the Ralph Nader group, Commercial Alert, that complained to the FTC.

In my opinion however such regulation should not be imposed upon these companies, what is often unacknowledged is that many of these internet “giants” are not just used by US citizens, I live in the UK and I do not feel that restrictions should be placed on google by the US system that would adversely affect my search experience. In any case the following quote seems to echo many of the sentiments of my own views.

It’s possible to read this case as a case about media regulation. Maybe Google is a common carrier; in agreeing to rank pages and index the Internet, it has (implicitly) agreed to abide by a guarantee of equal and non-discriminiatory treatment. On this view, it would be immensely important whether Google devalued SearchKing specifically, or as part of a general algorithm tweak. A great deal may also hinge on whether you think that Google provides access to information or merely comments on it. SearchKing alleges the latter, and Google agrees, but maybe SearchKing should have brought its case by arguing that Google has become, in effect, a gatekeeper to Internet content. On that view, a low PageRank isn’t just an opinion, it’s also partly a factual statement that you don’t exist in answer to certain questions, on the basis that low search results are never seen. When was the last time you looked for results beyond 200 on a search request returning 20,000 pages?

These are very messy questions, but also very important ones. They’re also very unlikely to be addressed directly in the courtroom, in this case or in other cases. Existing law just comes down too squarely on Google’s side (I think) for courts to take these broader questions without mutilating our existing rules. Nor should they. Not everything should be settled in the courtroom, and the discussion about the proper role of search engines is one that needs to take place in the same place this case began, back before it was a lawsuit: out on the Internet, where people read and appreciate others’ thoughts, and then contribute their own by adding links. Among other things, Google is a device for determining the consensus of the Web; and it’s just not right to fix the process by which we determine consensus by any means other than honestly arriving at one.

Perhaps as the internet, and the information contained on it, becomes more important to us as a society the answers we think we already have will have to be re-evaluated.