Search engine monopoly, Google has been accused of playing rough in Australia by an ‘experiment’ that removes certain news websites from search results. In and of itself, that’s fairly average but it is even more worrying, considering  earlier calls by Australian authorities that Google should pay for the news that it serves up in its results pages. 

It’s worth remembering that Google promotes itself as a search engine, while creating billions of dollars in revenue from paid advertising. That advertising adorns the pages of every search, meaning that Google gets away with not paying a cent for the content it publishes from other sites ,while pointing consumers toward advertising at the same time. It’s a license to print money and Australian regulators aren’t impressed.

“Google blindsided news consumers and media outlets this week with a trial that removed Australian media outlets such as the ABC, Nine, the Guardian and others from its search results. Users were not informed of the change, or advised how to find news articles when searching, with some reporting they initially believed it was an issue only affecting them.” (Source: “Google refuses to answer questions about removing Australian news sites from search results.” By Josh Taylor, 15 Jan, 2021, www.theguardian.com).

When you consider that Google is a search engine, then it is troubling that they are then omitting certain sites from its search results and would suggest that the voracity of its platform is not what it purports to be. Sure, we all know about the complicated algorithms involved in presenting results from a huge number of potential hits but deliberately hiding particular sites is another thing entirely.

In its defence, a Google spokesperson said that there was nothing nefarious about this at all, merely an experiment, no different to the many that it runs each year. “‘Every year we conduct tens of thousands of experiments in Google Search,’ they said. ‘We’re currently running a few experiments that will each reach about 1 per cent of Google Search users in Australia to measure the impacts of news businesses and Google Search on each other.’ The experiments will conclude by early February, the spokesperson said.” (Source: “Google ‘throwing its weight around’ by burying links to some commercial news sites, experts say.” By James Purtill, 16 Jan, 2021, www.abc.net.au/news).

Ok, let’s take that at face value. Google may conduct ‘experiments’  to optimise its platform and deliver a better service. But in the face of a call for them to actually pay for content made by Australian officials, it is something else.

“The move by Google came as a Senate committee is reviewing legislation that would force Google and Facebook to negotiate with Australian news media companies for a fair price for displaying local news content. Google has argued strongly against the code since it was first announced last year, by alerting users to the proposed changes in search and in Google Chrome.” (Source: “Google refuses to answer questions about removing Australian news sites from search results.” By Josh Taylor, 15 Jan, 2021, www.theguardian.com).

Why would Google object to paying for content to organisations and businesses that produce it, considering Google only exists because of it? I can only think of a few reasons and none of them are reasonable. We are talking about a global monopoly that is seemingly not accountable in the way that other businesses are – in terms of regulation and in tax payments as well.

Omitting results in this fashion appears vindictive and threatening and unfortunately, when a company exists with a resounding monopoly in the market, then it may be tempted to act in such a manner. Personally, I believe that is always an issue with monopolies and in this case will only be solved by committed and robust regulation and/or the evolution and success of competing search engines.