Google Abusing Monopoly Power?

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Recent Senate hearings focused on whether or not Google was abusing its power as a de facto monopoly in internet searches. Google executives testified that they do not cook the search results that the Google algorithm generates to favor their own internet properties, nor do they punish those with competing web services.

legal-monopolyWhile Google’s hands may (or may not) be pretty clean in these respects, the company continues to press ahead with initiatives that may be more likely to generate the kind of legitimate, hard evidence, formal complaints that regulators will use to exert control over Google’s stranglehold on the internet search process.

Google Linking Product Usage

One of the things the legal system hates to see is when giant companies use their power to force services or products upon other companies or consumers. This not only limits innovation, it costs other potentially powerful businesses in ways that neither politicians nor judges approve of. Intel, for example, was forced to refine the way it sells computer chips after forcing manufacturers to accept terms that made it impossible to use AMD chips, even if they were better for a specific usage.

Google has made a subtle change to the way they handle results from their dominate search platform. Although the company claims it is making the changes for privacy reasons, there is an exception big enough to drive a truck through that points directly to the beginnings of tying less dominant products to the company’s monopoly product in order to stifle competition.

Users logged into Google will have their searches encrypted by default. On the surface, this sounds perfectly reasonable. However, what this means is that the owners of websites visited by users from searches will not longer be able to see what the exact keywords were that led to the visitor finding the website.

For example, these days, if someone searches for freelance writer and they end up on my freelance writing website at ArcticLlama.com, I get a report that says the user came to my website from Google and that the search that led him to my website was freelance writer. This is useful information for me, because it shows why and how people end up at my website. It can also offer a reason for unexpected things that happen.

My freelance writing business is named ArcticLlama, so when I found a funny joke in the form a Llama Font, I wrote a little post about it and put it up on my website. A month or two later my site got a lot of extra traffic. Since I hadn’t done anything, that I was aware of, out of the ordinary, I wondered why there were more traffic to my website. Had a popular website linked to me? Was there an article I wrote that went viral? Was there a serial killer our there with the same name? Had Brian Nelson just won a million dollars and people were desperately trying to find me?

As it turns out, it had nothing to do with me after all. Upon looking at my traffic logs and Google Analytics, I was able to see that one of the top keywords for users coming from search engines was "llama font". The joke font had gotten popular and people were finding my article about it on Google. It was good information to know so that I didn’t make wrong assumptions.

As a website owner I have no inalienable right to a person’s search keywords per se, and therefore, Google’s decision to encrypt outgoing traffic in such a way that I will no longer see why keywords bring visitors to my website isn’t something that I have any standing to complain about, except Google isn’t doing it properly.

Instead, Google has a very big exception to the rule. If you are a paying advertiser on Google and someone comes to your website from a Google search, then the company gladly hands over the keywords that brought that user to your website.

In other words, If you buy something from Google, then Google will give you something free that no one else can give you and that no one else gets unless they buy from Google AdWords.

Note to Senate committee: If you don’t want to look like you are just chasing after the biggest kid on the block for no reason, start paying attention to these kinds of things. Keywords are valuable SEARCH information and Google just locked them down so that only the people who buy from Google’s ADVERTISING group are allowed to see them. Vertical integration by monopolies is a no no.

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