Who Should Decide the Relevance of Search Engine Results?

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2015-04-21 Print this article Print
Google Search Relevance

In a leaked report from the FTC investigation (similar to the European Union one), it emerged that when Google favored itself in tests over competitors, users didn't find the results as relevant. So through trial and error, Google found a way to favor its own sites without users being too unhappy about it.

Google is likely to approve of its own sites, its own content, its own formatting and the accessibility of its own data. So Google is unlikely to get penalized for these usability problems. Plus, Google may also favor its own sites because it wants to boost its own assets and revenue.

It's clear to me that even if Google were choosing to favor its own sites, the answer to the question "who decides search results?" is mostly users and secondarily the sites. Google's discretionary meddling in search engine results is severely constrained by the need to succeed and barely registers as a factor compared with the overwhelming influence of users and Website creators.

Yes, results on different search engines vary. And that variation can only be attributed to what you could call "values," which is defined as "the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something."

It's all about values. Websites are built based on the values of the companies, their products or people who create them. User activity, which impacts both search engine rankings and personalized results, is based entirely upon how users value them.

It's not possible to rank search engine results—or anything, for that matter—without those rankings being based entirely on values. Objectivity in search engine results is impossible.

So what Europe is actually proposing if and when it proposes material changes in Google's search results is the introduction of new sets of values—the values of new groups—being factored into the mix.

They want the values of Google's competitors to override to some degree Google's own values in a product where Google's collective set of value judgments actually is the product.

They want the values of bureaucrats, regulators, lobbyists, lawyers and others to override to some degree the values of users who determine search results in the course of their search activity and choices.

French politicians want to inject other values.

The upper house of the French parliament last week passed a bill that would force Google to provide competing search engines on the Google.com home page, and at least one must be a French company, which would probably be a search engine called Voila—a lousy search engine that French people mostly ignore. French lawmakers will vote on this bill in the weeks ahead.

This outcome would force the values of protectionist French nationalists as well as the values of some Google competitors onto Google Search.

If this sounds like crazy talk, remember that Europe has already enacted the right-to-be-forgotten rules, which enables a European citizen to "scrub" Google search results that link to Websites containing information that stigmatize the person.

Placing the right for the individual to be forgotten over the right of the public to remember and over the purpose of search engines to accurately reflect what's on the Internet is a value that has been imposed on Google and other search engines and a European value that the EU wants Google to impose on the world.

Who should decide?

Regulators say they want search engine results to be "fair" and "objective." But this is an impossible delusion.

If France succeeds in forcing Google to offer the Voila search engine on its home page, is that fair to France's second and third biggest search engines?

On what criteria is one site objectively deemed "better" than another?

At the risk of overstating it, regulators are either lying or delusional when they call for "fair" and "objective" search engine results.

The truth is that they are calling for the coercive introduction of their own values—and the values of Google's competitors—to take precedence over the values of users, of every Website and of Google itself.

How is this better?



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