One of my clients just made the switch to an Android phone. He’s a technology consultant and über-geek, and so he understood that in going Android he’d need to make some decisions about how he uses bandwidth on his wireless device. If he stays with the data plan he’s selected, he’s better not plan to use Google Music or any other streaming service, because he’ll go broke.
And he understands this stuff. Most people don’t.
When I told you about Google Music and my concerns over what it will mean to heavy bandwidth users a few weeks ago, I suggested the possibility that Google might be in cahoots with the bandwidth providers. Just a little while later Verizon announced the end of unlimited data plans; starting on July 7 all new Verizon Wireless users will have their bandwidth capped. All of this made me think about something I said when Google and Verizon thumbed their noses at the Federal Trade Commission and essentially derailed Net Neutrality, last summer.
And so the FTC has decided to attack the way Google orders search results. Holy Cow.
There’s a lot to digest in the 200 or so words you’ve just read, so let me spell this out for you:
Google is not your friend. Huge businesses rarely are. And the FTC, created in 1914 by The Federal Trade Commission Act, is there, ostensibly, to protect us from what happens when companies get too big. And the FTC has no idea what it’s doing.
It’s been almost two years since the FTC pushed through rules that compelled bloggers to disclose if they were paid by others to write things. As far as I can tell this rule hasn’t ever been enforced, and celebrity bloggers like Kim Kardashian flaunt the FTC’s paid blogging rule with impunity.
And telecommunications regulation? WHAT telecommunications regulation?
Given our place in the Search Engine Optimization stratosphere, I’m way more familiar with the way Google handles their Search Results than most people are. And I have concerns. Google slapping JC Penney on the wrist over their black-hat SEO practices can’t REALLY be all the penalty there is for manipulation of the system, can it?
But Google, despite controlling 65% of the market for Internet search, isn’t a monopoly, and the FTC’s upcoming action against Google acts as though it is. Worse, even if Google is a search “monopoly”, the fact that they manipulate their search results to suit the purposes of their advertising business shouldn’t be worthy of regulation, because Google doesn’t claim to be giving us unbiased results.
Should they? I don’t know, but neither does the FTC. And so the increasingly toothless government agency should focus elsewhere.
Where? The FTC should begin taking steps to compel Google to reveal the “secret sauce” behind their search results.
Google won’t like that, but it’s time. And any argument that Google and other search providers make that revealing the way their search algorithms work would enable the bad guys to game the system is specious; the bad guys are already gaming the system, and always will.
Dear FTC: please find better things to do with your time, while there’s still a reason to have an FTC.