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While the FTC has not taken any formal action regarding search engines, it has let search engine companies know that it is watching. Any skewing of results without a disclaimer might result in FTC enforcement action, IMHO.
They cannot afford any bad press from the government. They have already got in a bit of trouble with the page rank scheme that basically never gives the little guy a chance just because they are not popular.
What trouble? And where do you get the mistaken idea that "little guys" don't do well in Google? If anything, the opposite is true. Google has probably done more than anyone else to level the playing field so that mom-and-pop Web sites can compete with and, in many cases, do better than big corporate-owned sites.
Google will not throw away their hard earned credibility for the sake of short term gain. Thankfully for them, google has always been able to focus on the big picture and the long term one, unlike many in the Web business.
Endanger the credibility of Google's main index by any commercial influence from PFI to Pay for Review to Adsense site-favouritism, and Google will lose their key advantage which keeps people coming back.
Google has probably done more than anyone else to level the playing field
Very true. I am one of the little guys and I consistently am near the top in the search on certain keyword, well above large commercial sites.
I agree that Google's credibility is their most important asset, and they won't risk it.
Their moves are not only about a better experience for the end user. The purchase of Pyra and the way they are handling their toolbar, building up their news site, doing adwords and adsense, I think they have a very clever strategy and we may be surprised at how it all plays out in the end.
If they skew results subtly it will work. In fact, someone else here says that urls are getting into Google through the mediabot. If its true that already skews results in favor of adsense publishers who will get more pages indexed. (BTW, I don't agree that Mediabot crawls get into the index. I did run a test making sure to have the toolbar turned off and as far as I can tell, Mediabot is for adsense only.)