FairSearch - for the right result

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Online Search and Video – Google Command and Control

With more than one billion users each month, YouTube is the second largest search website, second only to Google itself. Coupled with its 90% market share in search globally, Google controls the two main gateways to search for music, and with no meaningful competition, the company has the power to control what people find online.

And yet again, now as it relates to YouTube, we are learning Google is following the same playbook we have seen in search, mobile, mapping and the adtech market: open, dominate, close.

Case in point.

The recent public rift between Zoë Keating and Google around take-it or leave-it changes to the dominant YouTube’s “terms of service” illustrates how Google is looking to tighten its control over consumers’ access to content, limiting the ability of artists to distribute and promote their work online.

The first issue here relates to consumers’ ability to get the most relevant and unbiased response to their music searches. As an independent content creator, Keating relies on word-of-mouth and the Internet to build her fan-base, with potential new and existing fans often using Google search and YouTube to uncover and familiarize themselves with her work. However, recently Keating noticed:

Until yesterday a search for “Zoe Keating” would yield a Google Knowledge Graph box on the right with all my info, including links to listen to my music. It always bugged me that those links were only to Google Play, Rhapsody and Spotify, all services which have hardly any of my music in them. If the metadata about me is really pure, why not link to the only services that actually have all my music? i.e. Bandcamp, SoundCloud and iTunes?

As Keating noted, Google’s music service, Google Play Access (with only 3% market share), is not likely the most relevant search result. Google, the dominant search engine and a primary access point for consumers to discover the work of artists, has the ability to divert searchers to its own services (such as Google Play Access) and control what we find online, despite user expectations that content appearing at the top of Google search results will be the most relevant.

Secondly, Google is imposing unfair terms and conditions, now demanding independent artists make YouTube their preferred online distribution channel, or face having less control over unauthorized copies of their work on YouTube. This allows Google to demand a greater share of revenue from videos created by independent content creators.

YouTube, a previously open platform, is now the dominant video sharing service – another gatekeeper of the Internet – that Google has closed off. These anticompetitive tactics are no different from those raised by the specialty search companies in Europe.

These practices bring up serious questions about how we access content on the Internet. For example, should independent artists be forced to use Google’s services in order to be found online? If an artist does not use Google’s services, do they risk not being found online at all? After all, Google’s own executive said search is critical to be found, if not, “the rest cannot follow.”

More importantly, if Google becomes not only the de facto search engine for all video content, but also the end point of those searches (in YouTube), could we potentially see a world in which Google decides what content can and cannot be found on the Internet?

The creative industries are part of the bedrock of American culture, but one company—Google—threatens to undermine the independent voices from which new talent rises. And while the creative industries have filed complaints in the past against Google, there has been little action taken so far by regulators to curb Google’s practices. We urge those regulators to think about how independent content creators like Zoë Keating are being affected by Google’s anticompetitive practices.