During the good old days, you had to go to the public library to conduct research by delving into pages of statistical data for an academic paper; rummaging through thick, musty binders for legal documents; searching microfilms or indexes of blurry news clippings; and perusing rows and rows of dusty books. And it took forever. Then data brokers like LexisNexis were developed. But it was sort of cumbersome. First, you had to create the search, identify the topic, select a source, and then choose the search terms. And sometimes, you had to go through the process several times before finding an exact match.
The information-gathering process has changed significantly; some say for the better, since the development of Google. Today, the search giant handles over 40,000 search queries on an average of every second per day. That’s actually over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion global searches per year, according to Internet Live Stats. To some critics, however, it’s kind of scary.
In other words, Google currently holds information about everyone and everything. The question is: how is it being used? And, most importantly, how does the system decide what information is relevant enough to display? According to a new study, Google “puts the fix” on all of your searches. So, a better question is why, and how that information is ranked in terms of importance?
Today, Google has become the go-to platform for online searches from basic research to more detailed background checks. The problem is that critics of the Silicon Valley titan say that the company has acquired way too much power. And it is increasingly obtaining more information or access to it every day. In addition, Google is consciously making decisions for its users, and subsequently only distributes the knowledge that it deems important.
“That suggestion shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention,” according to Wired. “In recent years, Google’s search rankings were the subject of a Federal Trade Commission investigation, as well as an ongoing antitrust investigation by European Union regulators.”
In the 2013 investigation, the FTC claimed that Google was taking advantage of its standing as an information powerhouse, and that it was causing “real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets,” according to the official documents obtained by The Wall Street Journal. Yelp’s vice president of public policy, Luther Lowe, told the Journal that “this document appears to show that the FTC had direct evidence from Google of intentional search bias”.
But for reasons that are unclear to critics, the FTC failed to file any charges against Google. And that’s why Yelp decided to take its own action. So now the latest claim that Google is essentially “putting the fix” on its search results comes from Yelp’s new study, conducted by Harvard Business School professor Michael Luca, Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu, and Yelp’s data science team. In the study, the researchers found that Google provides users with its own personal angle—which promotes Google-created content—in terms of local search results.
So what’s the issue with Google promoting its own content?
It’s sort of like being in The Matrix where users’ minds are constricted by Google’s reality. And it explains why most users don’t bother to explore any results past the first five.
“The Google organic ranking algorithm does a great job at identifying helpful content on the Web,” Lowe told The Washington Post. “But it’s sadly not being deployed in the most common user behavior on Google: local search.”
This means that when you search for “trendy NYC clubs,” the first set of listings will be the names of seven clubs that “happen to have Google+ or Google+ Local pages.” You will not see the names of other local clubs that Google otherwise highly ranks and that have really great ratings “but on the sites of Google’s competitors.”
Then you end up going to a Google-approved club that sucks. So, the next time that you do a Google search, just keep in mind that you are entering a manipulated universe created by another highly biased and controlling Silicon Valley machine.