Does Search Disrupt the Business World?

When Brin and Page wrote The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine they noted that advertising biases search engines toward the needs and wants of advertisers, and against the best interest of consumers.

Currently, the predominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users. For example, in our prototype search engine one of the top results for cellular phone is "The Effect of Cellular Phone Use Upon Driver Attention", a study which explains in great detail the distractions and risk associated with conversing on a cell phone while driving. This search result came up first because of its high importance as judged by the PageRank algorithm, an approximation of citation importance on the web [Page, 98]. It is clear that a search engine which was taking money for showing cellular phone ads would have difficulty justifying the page that our system returned to its paying advertisers. For this type of reason and historical experience with other media [Bagdikian 83], we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers.

Not surprising then, when Google becomes a leading advertising engine, they go so far to cater to advertisers that Google's blog bashes documentaries while using that opportunity and platform to remind advertisers they can manipulate public perception by buying Google AdWords ads and Google delivered AdSense ads on content websites.

We can place text ads, video ads, and rich media ads in paid search results or in relevant websites within our ever-expanding content network. Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message.

Cory Doctorow offers an alternative solution

Another approach would be to reform the practices that Moore criticises in the film -- for example, refusing to pay for an insured individual's surgery because she didn't mention a 15-year-old yeast infection on her application; denying MRIs to patients with brain tumors; and paying medical directors bonuses for denying claims.

Google also has a health advertising page, which goes so far as to say

Yes, healthcare consumers are moving online. But there's more to the story than that. For instance, the Internet is the leading media source of health, medical, and prescription-drug information. In addition, the majority of consumers use a search engine prior to requesting a prescription drug from a doctor. The bottom line: The Internet plays a central role in the way consumers' access healthcare information.

This is the sort of stuff I was fearing when I wrote about Google's shift from direct marketing to selling brand ads. There is no care for relevancy if spreading misinformation pays more:

I can see how one might want to play up the fact that Google is admitting it can “use” the web sites in its content network to sway the public perception…which is really telling all those web masters running Google ads that they are Google pawns, that Google is not neutral morally or politically, and that Google seeks out opportunities to exploit that (for profit).

SEOs get a black eye for market manipulation, but is what Google suggests any better? Nope. It is only wrong to manipulate public perception or relevancy if you don't have enough money to pay Google directly. If you have a wallet open it up and let Google syndicate your spin.

Published: July 1, 2007 by Aaron Wall in google


Aoleon The Mart...
July 5, 2007 - 4:48am

Google is a public front for the NSA, and whatever their mission statements is.. THEY ARE BECOMING EVIL

They have now acquired a company that is responsible for assigning permanent cell phone numbers to individuals. They are also looking to have corporations use Gmail instead of Outlook server mail.

Just think of all the information Google has access to... both personal and corporate.

July 5, 2007 - 9:21pm

Beware the Monolithic Institution/Organization!!!

July 1, 2007 - 2:33pm

Don't be what? Google?

Adam Audette
July 1, 2007 - 6:54pm

Spot on. I was surprised by Lauren Turner's bizarre post - talking about managing reputations? So now google is in the PR biz I guess. Seems they're heading down a slippery slope entering political debates like this.

Manish Pandey
July 1, 2007 - 9:52pm

Yeah absolutely!

One of the reason I could think of it is that of it's huge market. Search has really a very big market and many people are going online every day! And many of them are buying products more often online. So no need to buy from your local store when you could order the CDs from your home! ;)

Adam Audette
July 2, 2007 - 1:27am

Turner's rant has been retracted by google:


Adam Audette
July 2, 2007 - 1:31am

i think i just stepped into the twilight zone (with hosts ed and manish here)

July 2, 2007 - 4:40am

At the end of the day, it looks like "Make More $$$" trumps "Do No Evil" for the big G.

July 2, 2007 - 6:51am

As news on demand has made the world seem smaller, brought the other side of the globe into our living rooms in real time, and changed the dynamics of political landscapes, Google has used the Internet to exert and broker influence in the relationships between business and government/politics, consumers and the media.

What the Rockefellers did with their power over a century ago, Google is doing now on a global scale.

July 2, 2007 - 3:56pm

It's an inevitable situation when advertising is a major source of revenue. Can you have a whiter than white search engine?? I doubt it. And from Google's point of view who are they to say what is fact and what is fiction, that is up to the searcher to decide. As with everything you read, search results should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Maybe the next generation of search engines will enforce a trust ranking algorithm for search results based on industry, company reputation etc. Maybe it's already out there!

July 3, 2007 - 9:56am

Google are haunted by that don't be evil motto when ill thought posts like Laurens surface. Faux pas's like this reassure us that underneath the collegial atmosphere of excellence, behind the nerf toys, air hockey and free meals that Google is a stone cold company with aggressive revenue targets and account execs and sales people under pressure to achieve them.

Theres no real difference in Google advocating using the content network and adwords to try and crush bad press than a skilled SEO using organic techniques to kill bad press in the SERPs. The only difference is that Google got massively caught and and because everyone expects Google to be a benevolent keeper of the internet we all are a little shocked to find that they they probably won't let much stand in the way of more revenue, a larger advertising base and access to a market that is not hooked on the instant hit of PPC traffic.

Steve L
July 4, 2007 - 4:18am

Google took some of the first steps toward making the web ad-based with the content network. Not only are they biasing search engines, they are helping ruin the web. Dread the day when content requires advertising to make it online.

July 4, 2007 - 4:22am

Google took some of the first steps toward making the web ad-based with the content network. Not only are they biasing search engines, they are helping ruin the web. Dread the day when content requires advertising to make it online.

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