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E.U. Drafting New Regulations over Search Ranking Transparency

Amazon, Apple, Bing and Google

     
11:19 am on Mar 15, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Amazon, Apple, Bing and Google are likely to come under new scrutiny as the E.U. is drafting new rules over commercial practices and, and will require companies to be more transparent about search ranking and clearer over de-listing.
The proposal seeks to address potentially harmful trading practices by online platforms and a lack of effective redress mechanisms for smaller businesses that use them to reach consumers.

“Online intermediation services can hold superior bargaining power over their business users, enabling them to behave unilaterally in a way that is capable of harming the businesses using them,” the draft regulation, seen by Reuters, says. E.U. Drafting New Regulations over Search Ranking Transparency [reuters.com]
12:05 pm on Mar 15, 2018 (gmt 0)

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The unintended consequence is that the search engines will have to tell the world how to game the SERPS.
12:11 pm on Mar 15, 2018 (gmt 0)

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That, too, was my first thought, but, i'm certain, that will never happen.
3:06 pm on Mar 15, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Will it?

The proposal will not force companies to disclose their algorithms but just provide descriptions at a general level explaining “how and to what extent the relevant ranking mechanism takes account of the quality of the products and services offered”.
3:35 pm on Mar 15, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Google will say quality is the entire extent of the ranking system.

Then the "how" becomes relevant. Either this will be meaningless ("we rely on our patents, mixed in a secret-sauce formula"), or will reveal the system to a greater or lesser extent.

Extracted Pseudo-code for quality determination
IF SITEOWNER = "Google" THEN RankScore = RankScore+10^100 [en.wikipedia.org]
7:14 pm on Mar 15, 2018 (gmt 0)

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If G is forced to publish guidelines on how the SERPS work, it will be meaningless. With the number of updates they apply, the information will be out of date before the ink even dries on the paper. Anyone who tries to work out what really happens will be driven to distraction by the number of changes.
10:07 pm on Mar 15, 2018 (gmt 0)

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The proposal will not force companies to disclose their algorithms but just provide descriptions at a general level explaining “how and to what extent the relevant ranking mechanism takes account of the quality of the products and services offered”.

The search engines should simply say, "We don't take account of the quality of the products and services offered. We rank Web content, not businesses."
12:31 am on Mar 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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A bit too late,

What should happen is disclosure of any action taken against a business/site and how to remedy.

Imagine if one SEO company has site reviewers working for google and impose some sort bad review on your site because you competing with their clients? Or Adwards reps doing something because your are competing with their biggest spender?

You will never know what happened and no chance to ever find out.

It is not about algorithms but transparency on actions taken and get informed.
8:16 am on Mar 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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The search engines should simply say, "We don't take account of the quality of the products and services offered. We rank Web content, not businesses."


In which case, the search engine should revert to being a search engine and remove its own products from search results (knowledge graph, travel guides etc.).

The big picture here is that we have one company that is using/abusing its monopolistic power to exert more influence than any other organisation or even state has ever had in the history of the world. There is virtually no oversight, and certainly no democratic consensus or approval for the influence that it can impose on the rest of humanity.
8:35 am on Mar 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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certainly no democratic consensus or approval for the influence that it can impose on the rest of humanity
Except, of course, that no one is compelled to use it, and alternatives are just a click away.
8:52 am on Mar 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Except, of course, that no one is compelled to use it, and alternatives are just a click away.

Whether or not there are alternatives or not is irrelevant at this stage.
The point is that they have a level of power and influence now that fundamentally threatens our democratic systems and capitalism itself.

Perhaps a better solution would be a degree of regulation of Search Engines - maybe some rules that insist that Search Engine companies do not operate in other sectors, so that there is never a conflict of interest?

We do not have a properly functioning Search Engine market anymore - how could a new player even try to enter that market at this stage?
9:42 am on Mar 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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- AOL was the biggest company in the world. No ISP could ever hope to displace them.
- MySpace was unassailable due to network effects, no Social Media platform had a chance.
- IBM was the #1 PC manufacturer.
- Microsoft dominated the browser market
- Anyone remember Yahoo? Hotmail?

Seriously though, AWS has enough grunt to power search. I would not rule out Amazon creating or acquiring Search capabilities. Bing has a perfectly good methodology, but no exposure.

As for operating in other sectors, Google has to fund search through advertising. That is undeniable.

The revenue from advertising is far bigger than needed just for search. What are they to do with that money, make rich people richer? Or invest in other capabilities, pay some more wages, and generally advance the state of the data-processing art?

It's easy to demonise Google. But the corollary is that they have made the running in fields such as Information Architecture and Artificial Intelligence, as well as making big contributions in more developed disciplines.

Google has already restructured in order to keep their divisions discrete. And Anti-trust laws mean they should not be able to leverage their Search dominance into other arenas (hence this thread).

Incidentally, I'm not sure you can say there is a "market" in Search engines. Without price signals, the concept it meaningless. It would be more accurate to say there is a market in Search Users, and Search Engines are the brokers and market-makers.
10:04 am on Mar 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Bing has a perfectly good methodology, but no exposure.

Agreed, and that applies to any company with half a mind to get into the market.
Just think about android, and how it's near impossible to stop a search from going via google as a default. For example, I haven't found a way to do mist of that with Bing, or any other search service

Regulation is not always the best way to deal with this, but, when market dominance is so great, the consumers ultimately lose out.
10:32 am on Mar 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@Shaddows All of your arguments seem to come from a sense that it would be unfair to punish Google for its own success.
This again, is irrelevant. The issue here is the danger in the power that is concentrated in one corporation.

While I accept that there are many examples in history where technological developments have quickly toppled monopolies mitigating the need for regulation, many of your examples (e.g. AOL) did not have global reach or dominance comparable to the one Google enjoys.
Others (e.g. Microsoft's browser domination) did require regulatory intervention.
10:48 am on Mar 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I'm more saying that "punishing" Google would be some combination of illegal, counterproductive and ineffective.

Google has loads of cash. It is better for society that they do something productive with that cash rather than pay dividends to shareholders.

Equally, they have huge expertise. Better for them to harness that brain power for things that are useful for society, rather than ban them from doing anything but "Search".

On the other hand, we already have anti-trust laws, which means Google should not be able to leverage their Search dominance into other areas. This is as it should be.

I'm not sure about the transparency thing. As I said earlier, it will either be meaningless, or will allow people to game the system. I have no objections on the grounds that it will disadvantage Google.
2:34 pm on Mar 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Instead of waiting for another search engine to take over from google, I think search engines will just wither away and people won’t bother using with them as much anymore. People won’t want to search through pages of results once voice search gets going. Other websites will just get packaged up as apps. That’s got to be the future of online newspapers and magazines, surely?
4:35 pm on Mar 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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The original post in this thread begins:
Amazon, Apple, Bing and Google are likely to come under new scrutiny as the E.U. is drafting new rules over commercial practices and, and will require companies to be more transparent about search ranking and clearer over de-listing.

The proposed rules aren't only about Google, so let's not let our collective Google obsession distract us from the topic at hand.
5:10 pm on Mar 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I would not rule out Amazon creating or acquiring Search capabilities.

In the context of this discussion (see the original post), it already does. Search for a product on Amazon, and you're likely to get a page with prices from Amazon and a number of third-party vendors. It seems to me that the statement "The proposal seeks to address potentially harmful trading practices by online platforms and a lack of effective redress mechanisms for smaller businesses that use them to reach consumers" is aimed directly at the Amazon Marketplace and its peers.
8:10 pm on Mar 17, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I notice that lot are constantly criticizing the EU for trying to regulate everything, but hopefully that there is the EU to impose things to the Internet giants to try to protect a bit more individuals, but also small businesses.
11:35 pm on Mar 17, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@Travis

For sure, the situation is critical already, not even the EU knows what it goes in that algo
7:27 pm on Mar 21, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Any publication of ranking criteria is bad for everyone. If you can't keep your ranking methods secret you can't deliver relevant results because of black hat SEO.

It doesn't matter if you don't have to publish actual algorithms, any detailed information about how results are sorted will be used to game the system.

This is yet another example of regulators not understanding technology. It may be aimed at Google but it ultimately affects all of search, present and future, and would result in an even higher barrier of entry into the industry as a new player, with simpler criteria and less dynamic algorithms, would be hopelessly gameable if they had to publish their methods.

If they want to hobble Google (putting aside whether that would be a good or bad thing), they should target them directly and specifically in a way that won't mess with digital tech itself.
 

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