“What is Google doing wrong?” Virginia-based consultant and blogger Scott Cleland asked the Consumer Watchdog conference today. “They’re a nice company and competition is just one click away.”
It is a common enough question which Cleland answered himself with a metaphor that poker players will appreciate.
“Google deals itself Aces that are hidden in its sleeve,” he said, “Despite its claims that it never manipulate search rankings, Google manually ranks Google-owned content first.
While Danny Sullivan, blogger at SearchEngineLand, yesterday mocked such an argument as “incredible stupidity,” Gary Reback, a California lawyer who represents Google competitors, followed with charts that lent credence to the allegation.
One showed what happened to the Web traffic of Foundem.uk, a British comparison shopping site which often ranked high in Google. When Google implemented its universal search boosting its own comparison shopping site, Foundem dropped to the 1000th ranking. At the same time, Foundem ranked number one in a Yahoo search and number seven on Bing. When Foundem complained to the European Commission, it returned to number one ranking on Google.
Meanwhile, Reback noted, three years had passed and Foundem’s business had suffered. Not coincidentally, the complaints of Foundem.uk helped trigger the Commission’s investigation into Google’s search practices announced yesterday.
Glenn Manishin, a Washington IT lawyer, challenged Cleland and Reback with the argument that search engines are, by nature, predictive and should not be held to s standard of neutrality.
Reback responded with a telling point: antitrust law does not require Google to be neutral, “but it does require them not to abuse their market dominance.”