Google and its parent company, Alphabet, have their metaphorical fingers on hundreds of different lucrative pies. For countless millions of users, "for Google," something has become synonymous with "search," the company's original business – a business that is now under investigation as more details about its inner workings are revealed.
A coalition of attorneys general investigating Google's practices is expanding its investigation to include Google's search business, CNBC said, citing people familiar with the matter.
Attorneys general from almost every state joined in September to launch a joint antitrust investigation at Google. The investigation is being led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who said last month that the investigation would focus first on the company's advertising business, which continues to dominate the online advertising industry.
Paxton said at the time, however, that he would gladly take the investigation in new directions if circumstances warranted, saying to the Washington Post: "If we end up learning things that lead us in other directions, we will surely take them. Back to the states." and talked about whether we will expand to other areas. "
Google's decades-long dominance of the search market may not be as organic as the company alluded to, according to The Wall Street Journal, which published a lengthy report today investigating how Google's black box search process actually works. .
Google's increasingly practical approach to search results, which has seen a sharp increase since 2016, "marks a shift from its fundamental philosophy of" organizing the world's information "to one that is much more active. deciding how this information should appear. " the WSJ writes.
Part of this manipulation comes from very human hands, sources told the newspaper in more than 100 interviews. Employees and contractors "evaluated" survey results for effectiveness and quality, among other factors, and promoted certain results to the top of the virtual stack as a result.
A former contractor whom the WSJ spoke to down-rated any poll results read as an "instruction manual" for suicide-related consultations until the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline appeared as the main outcome. According to the contractor, Google soon after sent a message to the contracting company that Lifeline should be marked as the main outcome of all suicide-related research, so that the company's algorithms would adjust to consider it the best result.
Or, in another case, sources told the WSJ, officials made a conscious choice of how to handle anti-vax messages:
One of the first major issues that arose in 2015, according to people familiar with the issue, when some officials complained that a search for “how vaccines cause autism” provided wrong information on sites that oppose vaccination.
At least one official defended the result, writing that Google should "let the algorithms decide" what comes up, according to a person familiar with the matter. Instead, people said, Google has made a change so that the first result is a site called howdovaccinescauseautism.com – which states on its home page in large black letters: "They don't know." (The phrase became a meme within Google.)
The algorithms that govern Google's autocomplete and suggestion functions are also subject to review, the sources said. Google publicly states that it does not allow forecasts related to "harassment, intimidation, threats, improper sexualization, or forecasts that expose private or sensitive information," and this policy is not new. The engineer who created the autocomplete function in 2004 set an example using Britney Spears, who at the time was making more headlines for her weddings than for her music.
The engineer "did not want a piece of human anatomy or the description of a sexual act to appear when someone started typing the name of the singer," as the article describes. The unfiltered search results were "horrible," he added.
Since then, the company has maintained an internal blacklist of terms that may not appear in autocomplete, organic search, or Google News, sources tell the WSJ, although company leadership has publicly told Congress, including Don't use black or white lists to influence your results.
The modern blacklist includes not only spam sites, which are search indexed, but also the type of endemic Facebook (or, in this case, Google YouTube) misinformation sites.
Google relies on human intervention and infinite tweaking of its algorithms, as the WSJ describes, is not an antitrust violation. However, when he uses his data from one operation to make choices that may hurt competitors from other operations, this may draw attention.
All of this human intervention and algorithmic tweaking also affects advertising and business results, according to the WSJ. These adjustments "favor large companies over small ones," writes the newspaper, "as opposed to [Google’s] public position that he never performs this kind of action. "
Top advertisers, including eBay, received "direct advice" on how to improve their search results after seeing organic search traffic drop, sources told the newspaper. Smaller companies, however, were not so lucky, being left to try to discover systems by bringing traffic or denying traffic on their own.
Links to Google's own resources and properties also occupy an increasing percentage of the search results page, the WSJ notes. For example, if you look for one of today's market leaders like Beyonce, you'll be greeted with three large Google modules that take up more than half of the screen space:
More than half of Google searches are now "no click" searches, where individuals just look at the results page and use the snippets on it instead of clicking on any of the sources from which Google is getting this information. This type of data use, among others, may be considered harmful to competitors since the company is using data collected from competitors to prevent users from accessing those competitors.
Google, in turn, disputed the WSJ's findings by telling the newspaper: "We do today what we did all the time, we provide relevant results from the most reliable sources available."