Press Release

Consumer Watchdog Urges Justice To Include Search Manipulation In Google Probe

CONTACT: 310-392-0522 ext 317 or Carmen Balber 202-629-3043

Wed, Feb 24, 2010 at 12:03 pm

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WASHINGTON, DC — Consumer Watchdog today called upon the Justice Department to ensure that its ongoing antitrust probe of Google’s business practices include an investigation of whether the Internet giant is manipulating its search results to favor its own products.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer group sent the letter to Christine Varney, Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Division, after news that the European Commission’s antitrust regulators were investigating to see if Google manipulated search engine results in an anticompetitive way. Also this week Internet company Foundem filed papers with the Federal Communications Commission with examples of how Google products were favored in its search results.

Read the Foundem filing here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/Foundemfiling.pdf

“We know and appreciate that your department is conducting an ongoing antitrust investigation of various business practices by Google, some of that related to the proposed Google Books settlement,” wrote John M. Simpson, consumer advocate. “Today I write to call upon you to ensure that included in that probe is consideration of how Google may use its search algorithms to manipulate Internet search results to favor its own products.”
Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrvarney022410.pdf

Consumer Watchdog had called for Justice to intervene in the Google Books case on antitrust grounds last April, citing concerns about unfair access to “orphan works.”  Last week the Justice Department and Consumer Watchdog were among those opposing the settlement in a fairness hearing before U.S. Judge Denny Chin.

With around 70 percent of the search market in the United States, Google is effectively the Internet’s gatekeeper for most consumers. Whether a website is ever visited can depend entirely on where it lands in a Google search.

Google claims its searches are neutral, based on proprietary algorithms. It declines to open those processes to outside scrutiny. To anyone seeking to verify Google’s claims of fairness, the Internet giant remains an impenetrable black box, Consumer Watchdog said.

“As part of your continued antitrust investigation we call on you to shine a light on Google’s black box, and require it to explain what’s behind search results,” Simpson wrote. “If, as it appears, Google is tweaking results to further its narrow agenda, this anticompetitive behavior must be stopped.”

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Consumer Watchdog, formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC, and Santa Monica, Ca.  Our website is www.consumerwatchdog.org.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 351 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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