Internet Nondiscrimination Principles: Commercial Ethics for Carriers and Search Engines

Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing, Internet and Search and Advertising

Article Snapshot

Author(s)

Frank Pasquale

Source

University of Chicago Legal Forum, pg. 263, 2008

Summary

This article asks if search engines should observe certain rules to maintain their integrity and transparency.

Policy Relevance

A dominant search engine like Google should be required to reveal how it ranks the results of its searches to avoid stealth marketing and problems with competition.

Main Points

  • Net neutrality advocates have argued that net neutrality rules are important to stop broadband carriers from unfairly blocking or delaying some Internet traffic in order to harm competitors.

  • Those who argue that no regulation is needed fail to realize how complex network management issues are.

  • A dominant company can harm competition even if it is not a supplier of network infrastructure like a broadband carrier, but an intermediary.
    • Microsoft was said to impede competition among providers of different browsers.
    • Google is the dominant search engine and is in a position to harm consumers, libraries, and others who rely on their services.

  • Google keeps the method it uses to rank the results of a search secret. If the method were known, web sites would know exactly how to manipulate their content to get a higher rank, gaming the system.

  • The secrecy of Google’s search method can harm consumers because it might be used for “stealth marketing.” Google could make some search results more prominent than others in exchange for a share of profits. Stealth marketing has always been considered harmful.

  • The FTC has said that search engines should keep paid results separate from other search results, but they should be more aggressive in regulating Google.

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