Committed to competing fairly

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 | 1:31 AM

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As Google has grown, we've not surprisingly faced more questions about our role in the advertising ecosystem and our overall approach to competition. This kind of scrutiny goes with the territory when you are a large company. However, we've always worked hard to ensure that our success is earned the right way -- through technological innovation and great products, rather than by locking in our users or advertisers, or creating artificial barriers to entry.

The European Commission has notified us that it has received complaints from three companies: a UK price comparison site, Foundem, a French legal search engine called ejustice.fr, and Microsoft's Ciao! from Bing. While we will be providing feedback and additional information on these complaints, we are confident that our business operates in the interests of users and partners, as well as in line with European competition law.

Given that these complaints will generate interest in the media, we wanted to provide some background to them. First, search. Foundem - a member of an organisation called ICOMP which is funded partly by Microsoft - argues that our algorithms demote their site in our results because they are a vertical search engine and so a direct competitor to Google. ejustice.fr's complaint seems to echo these concerns.

We understand how important rankings can be to websites, especially commercial ones, because a higher ranking typically drives higher volumes of traffic. We are also the first to admit that our search is not perfect, but it's a very hard computer science problem to crack. Imagine having to rank the 272 million possible results for a popular query like the iPod on a 14 by 12 screen computer screen in just a few milliseconds. It's a challenge we face millions of times each day.

Our algorithms aim to rank first what people are most likely to find useful and we have nothing against vertical search sites -- indeed many vertical search engines like Moneysupermarket.com, Opodo and Expedia typically rank high in Google's results. For more information on this issue check out our guidelines for webmasters and advertisers, and for an independent analysis of Foundem's ranking issues please read this report by Econsultancy.

Regarding Ciao!, they were a long-time AdSense partner of Google's, with whom we always had a good relationship. However, after Microsoft acquired Ciao! in 2008 (renaming it Ciao! from Bing) we started receiving complaints about our standard terms and conditions. They initially took their case to the German competition authority, but it now has been transferred to Brussels.

Though each case raises slightly different issues, the question they ultimately pose is whether Google is doing anything to choke off competition or hurt our users and partners. This is not the case. We always try to listen carefully if someone has a real concern and we work hard to put our users' interests first and to compete fair and square in the market. We believe our business practices reflect those commitments.

19 comments:

vintner said...

I must say I feel let down by the tone of this article.

Exhibit 1: "Imagine having to rank 272 million sites...on a 14 by 12 screen"

Are we expected to sympathize with the scale of the problem that Google is facing? Is Google trying to claim helplessness for errors and omissions?

Exhibit 2: Microsoft is quoted (should I say indicted) 3 times in this small essay. Again, a seeming sense of helplessness. Sounds like "It is not us, it is them doing it to us".

I expect Google to come clean on this. To steer clear of accusations and finger-pointing. To stay focused on technology, if required by even opening it up for credible, independent review. Lastly, let me remind you of your claim to do no evil.

Francotel SARL said...

Google now suggest these complaints are Microsoft backed !

its not the Truth, our Complaint Case N° 39765 is based on Search
Results from Google and Microsoft Bing

both of this Companies manipulate Search Results and work in a Anti
Competition Way against thousands of Webmasters.

Or how they can do things like that

If you search some Terms and have 5 million results, but in the first
most important 10 are 6-8 results of the same Company ? than it looks
like a prefered ranking for 1 Company and this is in fact manipulating
of Search Results.

unbelivable how relaxed Google answer and suggest thats only a
competition case between Google and Microsoft

Mind Octopus said...

Google adwords is fantastic - it allowed my businerss to grow and for me to get off of benefits and become successfully self employed. If you ever want an adwords user to defend you I am your man.

myronw said...

Web page rankings are determined by algorithms that include a large number of subjectively selected components.

Could an organization such as the US National Institute of Standards and Technology measure and standardize web page relevance?

In my opinion, probably not.

http://googcomments.blogspot.com

Khurt said...

@Francotel

"To stay focused on technology, if required by even opening it up for credible, independent review"

Are you asking Google to give away the algorithms and code for what makes its search so useful to the planet? How is that in the best interest of Google share holders?

Europe no longer knows how to compete. Maybe it's time you start fighting among yourselves again.

PhreedomPhan said...

Could this be a backdoor approach to an internet totally controlled by government? If anyone should face an anti-trust suit it's Microsoft. By constantly changing their operating system they've managed to destroy all of the major competitors for much of their software, especially Microsoft Office.

Steve said...

I do think this is backed by Microsoft, they are loosing ground because they have lost the competitive edge. I remember a company named Netscape that had similar complaints about Microsoft and unfair business practices. If I create a better mouse trap and people like it, then why would I change it. People have choices.

Steve Whitcomb

tkik said...

There is no difference between Microsoft using their Windows platform to enter the browser market with a free product (destroying netscape) and google using their search platform to enter the business directory market (destroying other business directories), rss market (destroying feedster and others), mapping market, real time / blog search market, etc. etc. Microsoft at least just gave the browser away for free. Google gives almost all their products away for free, and that is only possible due to the income from adwords which again is only large enough due to the market dominance in the search market.

When we recently partnered with some larger publishers for introducing a new cpc advertising system guess what happened....
Most pages that contained these ads where demoted, ranking now somewhere nobody ever will find them. We found out they were given a penalty manually (!), as google did not like our strategy and feared it would be copied by others.
Trying to talk to google employees about any problem like this is useless. They are not allowed to talk/comment on anything. The only help given is a forum where most of the time some NON-Employees give unqualified comments. I have seen only a handful google employees that commented from time to time there, mostly saying nothing at all. Thats about all help/communication you can expect if you have any issue. Google also is afraid for direct contact with webmasters, thats why all phone numbers and email adresses are removed everywhere.

Google still behaves like they are just a small company, one of thousands. But the reality is you have about 90% market share here in europe and that fact brings obligations with it. As defacto-monopolist in the european market, you ought to be fair, you ought not to misuse your market power to enter new markets and destroy the competitors in these markets, and you ought to have fair procedures for giving penalties and there should be a way to communicate and file complaints. Google does none of this.

IMO google behaves completely disrespectful and cruel to the people working at the companies it destroys with their aggressive product strategy and (mis)using your market dominance. "dont do evil" - well, guess what i think about that.

Pointing to Microsoft is just a sign that you have no clue what this is all about.

Alex said...

Google. Payback is a beeeaaatch. didn't you do the same with the browser ballot and all many similar things. Now you whine? Wow! Your tactics are definitely more predatory than MSFT's. Welcome to the numb!

Alastair said...

These anti-trust complaints seem strange.

Anti-trust/competition law targets abuse of dominant position and/or cartels. What seems to be criticised here is the effectiveness of Google's search algorithms.

Now call me stupid, but I think anyone who uses the web a lot will find that the Google search engine really is far better than its competitors.

Most web designers know that there are certain little ways to 'push' your website higher up the rankings. I would suggest that these sites try such tactics rather than claiming that neutral, non-subjective algorithms are in some way biased against them.

Dafne said...

SEO is the solution, cry isn't

Just For My Memory said...

monopoly won't make things developed. so here we go!

ziggaz said...

As far as I am concerned, users are just one click away to use other search engines, like bing, altavista etc.. There are many reasons to stick to google, aren't there?
It's not like the policies microsoft have had with hardware vendors, 'advising' them to be sell computers only with windows... Nevermind about the old european governments and their ex-monopolies.
Once in a time the good guys win, it happens, google are the good guys, let's celebrate til the bad guys united get the power back by force (not by talent).

Busterbuster said...

Google needs to understand that abuse of your position in search can come when you give precedence to your properties over others with no explanation. No one is really arguing you have created a superior product...what you are intentionally not responding to is using this dominance to rank your content higher than people whose content used to rank highly.

Perhaps the answer is to separate your Search business from your Content businesses so you do not have a conflict of interest.

Examples you must answer for:
- when you launched Froogle you started to rank your results higher at the expense of other shopping sites who used to score highly...how is this a case of giving the best result?
- now that you have a strong Local & Maps proposition, you rank these above other mapping & local information services (can you understand why other businesses would be upset by this?)
- now that you have also decided to get into real estate, can you see how your massive market share in Search would cause some trouble for say real estate listings (vertical search) sites who will find their listings rank drop as you rank your content higher than other?
- After Yahoo acquired Kelkoo, a price comparison search engine, Kelkoo's listings dropped off your index...this is a mighty coincidence that mirrors the Ciao example
- the list goes on...

Perhaps the answer is to separate your Search business from your Content businesses so you do not have a conflict of interest.

JM said...

As siggaz said Google isn't doing anything to lock people to their stuff. You don't like their products, fine, there are many other similar around. That other companies can't keep the pace, too bad for them, it's like accusing Mariano Rivera of cheating just because he is a very talented pitcher, there's a phrase I got for those companies that couldn't bring a better product to compete. "If you can't lose, get off the playground". And for those "accusations", well it's quite obvious that M$ is behind. Just look at the facts, 2 of the companies accusing Google were bought out by M$ and the 3rd one was clearly bribed by M$, this 3 companies are obviously M$'s "proxies" on this particular attack and M$ is well known for using "proxies" to attack companies, communities and developpers who compete with M$. There's even proof of that (just search "Halloween documents", "Barnes & Comes", M$ vs Netscape", "SCO vs Linux", "Win3x modifications to make it incompatible with DR-DOS", "Novell/M$ patent deal", etc and you'll find a long history of astroturfing, patent trolling, using "allied" companies to unfairly attack competitors and even going as far as trying to destroy Linux, attack the FOSS community and make Linux illegal)
@tkik. I think you got it wrong. There's a difference between being talented and cheating. Entering a market and building a great product will inevitably take out the weaker competitors much like a talented runner leaves the weaker ones behind in the race, what those other companies could have done when Google entered in their markets was to innovate and bring in talented people if they don't have any, it's simple, if you know that you're gonna be facing a fast runner you train as hard as you can to be faster than him. What M$ did to enter markets IS what would be called unfair, f.e: In win98 they integrated IE so deep that you can't remove it and by doing this they destroyed a browser that was clearly superior (Netscape) by forcing people to use IE.

tkik said...

@JM:
You did not get the point. I do not doubt at all that google has some very talented people. We do have too.
You can be as talented as one can be, you cant compete against google putting its own products on top of the search results. Does google make money with products like local search, shopping, news, rss reader, docs etc?
The answer is no, they not even intend to do so. But for sure developing and maintaining these products costs money. What do you think this money comes from?
Would google's products be as successful if google would not present them as first results in their websearch ?
Why is google allowed to break its own rules it makes for webmasters ?
Look for instance at this result, especially at the links "local business results for lawyers near New York" and "More results near New York"
Aren't these links to search result pages? Doesn't google tell us that webmasters must not let search result pages be indexable here ? :

"Use robots.txt to prevent crawling of search results pages or other auto-generated pages that don't add much value for users coming from search engines."

This is not "cheating" as you said, its "just" taking unfair advantages of the market power in one market to gain market share in other markets.

@ziggaz:
The big majority of users is using google for websearch. I am not the one to tell anybody which search engine he should use. I respect everybodys choice. But the fact the majority chooses for google does not mean that google may misuse the marketpower that comes with these facts. The "go away if you dont like it"-argument that often comes on the table is not valid, as there is no other reasonable place to go to as long as the majority uses mainly one search engine.

webmaster said...

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/03/29/foundem_fcc_filing_on_google/page3.html

The Register notes:
"And just for the record: Foundem has never received money from Microsoft or ICOMP. It is not a Microsoft shareholder, and Microsoft holds no stake in Foundem."

"Even as it painted Foundem as a Microsoft pawn, Google's blog post discussed the company's EU complaint as if it were a case of sour grapes, indicating it was nothing more than an attempt to show that Google's algorithms discriminate against Foundem's site because it's a vertical search competitor. But this too is patently misleading."

Andrew Masterman said...

It does seem rather bizzare for particular websites to complain to Google because they are not at the top of Google's rankings. As others have pointed out, they need to make their website more SEO-friendly.

As a result of all the links Foundem have got from articles such as this discussing the dispute with Google, Foundem seems to be getting many top ranks in the search engines for model search terms. Perhaps this was a deliberate strategy by Foundem to get many new quality links to boost their search rankings?

I have a price comparison site - Electrical Retailers Price Comparison - so I am a competitor of Foundem.co.uk I don't think their site is particularly good - slow and clunky - but it is probably very profitable given their rankings in Google.

FuriousStyles said...

Being a webmaster myself i am constantly trying to ensure my websites are useful and provide unique relevant content, not only because this is in Google's best interest but because it is in mine, and my visitors. I work hard on providing this.

So when i see a website such as Foundem.co.uk complain it makes me furious and this is why:

1. The homepage contains no information and is little more than a directory of products.

2. When you actually search for a product you are not provided with written reviews of the product or retailer; instead you receive the exact same information that you would get if you visited the retailers site (word for word- absolutely no unique content).

3. There links to the retailers give you no warning that you are in fact leaving the website; instead they are cloaked links (totally against Google's policy)

This is just a few things noticed in the first 5 minutes of looking at the site, there are many many more reasons that would explain why Google's algorithm would not put them top. These guys should really get a grip, and work harder. Any fool with enough money can automatically generate other peoples content onto their own site..but what are they giving us that a million amazon based affiliate websites not already giving us? You can select from a number of retailers on these too! Maybe these should all be top in SERPS?