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Miami Herald Op-Ed: "The Dark World of Search Engine Manipulation"

Today’s Miami Herald op-ed from Edward Wasserman, a Knight professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University, should be required reading for anyone who cares about the integrity of fair search results and the benefits they provide to Internet users and consumers. In describing Google’s unprecedented ability to steer users and the lack of transparency in how it ranks results, Wasserman shines a light on Google’s power to choose winners and losers in the marketplace; think judge and jury. The article offers a disturbing reminder of why the DOJ must challenge Google’s proposed takeover of ITA Software in order to preserve competition and choice in online travel search.

Just a few snippets:

“When it comes to directing people’s attention, there has never been anything as powerful as today’s vast online search engines, and when it comes to search engines, nobody can touch Google, whose sites handle an estimated 88 billion queries a month, roughly two-thirds the world total.”

“Users don’t have any idea how Google decides the order in which it presents search results, and that ranking is the most consequential thing Google does. That’s because search engines may look far and wide, but their users do not. If your company doesn’t show up at or near the top of Google’s results, it’s invisible.”

“If the principles guiding search shape public awareness in sweeping ways, shouldn’t we know what they are? Besides, Google itself routinely features its own spinoffs – Google Product Search, Google News and YouTube – high up on its results. Is that OK? Why do I get three “Google Maps” links on page 1 when I type in ‘driving directions?’”