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Danny Sullivan on "Google's Broken Promises"

FairSearch has frequently asked whether Google can really be trusted, a question that is as important as ever. Search Engine Land founding editor Danny Sullivan recently published a blog post titled “Google’s Broken Promises & Who’s Running The Search Engine?” calling Google out with two specific examples in the last two years.

First broken promise, on paid results in Google Shopping. Once upon a time, Google Product Search (Google Shopping’s predecessor) operated like a search engine. It pulled listings from across the internet, and displayed the results from online merchants for free. If these sites wanted better placement for a particular search, they could buy ads, which were displayed above and to the right of the unpaid product listings. Now, no one gets listed in Google Shopping, which takes up prime real estate on the search results page, unless the provider pays for placement.

Sullivan writes, “Google once felt so strongly that this was a bad practice that when it went public in 2004, it called paid inclusion evil, producing listings that would be of poor relevancy and biased. The company wrote, in part: Because we do not charge merchants for inclusion in [Google Shopping], our users can browse product categories or conduct product searches with confidence that the results we provide are relevant and unbiased.

Google alters its story to redirect questions or subdue criticism toward its actions rather than explaining any changes in its strategy. Sullivan continues, “the company steadfastly tries to deflect from the reversal protesting that it’s not doing paid inclusion, by trying to redefine the term or by focusing on the fact that it has disclaimers.”

Second broken promise, banner ads on the homepage. Google previously promised in 2005, “There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or web search results pages.” But eight years later, Google is now testing big banner ads tied to its search result listings.

Sullivan notes that this development is an affront to a key passage of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s academic thesis, which formed the basis for Google’s creation:

In general, it could be argued from the consumer point of view that the better the search engine is, the fewer advertisements will be needed for the consumer to find what they want. This of course erodes the advertising supported business model of the existing search engines.”

Sullivan writes of Google’s backtracking on long-standing policies, “Google was foolish to have made promises that it couldn’t keep.”

The examples Sullivan provides represent further evidence that Google cannot simply be trusted. They are in line with previous examples of Google paying fines to settle allegations it did not meet its legal obligations or promises to the government or consumers, including with the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission, and Justice Department in the U.S., to name a few.