Can Google Be Trusted?

Sep 16th
posted in

Dollars

They are a world-leading enterprise, employing over 22,000 people. Fortune named them "America's Most Innovative Company". They also run various online marketplace services, through which a vast amount of money flows. They are a trusted name in households across the country. It is the year 2000, and that company is Enron.

Less than a year later, Enron would collapse under the weight of institutionalized fraud. And hubris.

The lessons learned from the Enron collapse were the dangers of monopolistic power and lack of transparency.

Google In 2008

Google is the darling of the tech world. In fact, they're pretty much the darling of every world, given their massive market reach and the usefulness of their services. Google occupy a position of enormous power. It is fair to say Google has nothing in common with Enron, other than the fact they are a big company, and for the most part, Google has done a good job in terms of gaining and maintaining trust with a wide range of stakeholders.

But for any company the size of Google, especially one that has grown in such a short period of time, questions of trust - and anti-trust - will eventually surface.

Should We Trust The Machine?

Take for example the recent case of United Airlines stock. An old story about the airline's bankruptcy was published online, resulting in $1B being wiped off the value off the value of the stocks within minutes. The finger pointing started soon after, with Google blaming the originator of the piece, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, whilst the Tribune Company, who publishes The Sun-Sentinel, pointed the finger right back.

To be fair, the mistake was largely due to a chain of human errors, and most of the mistakes made were outside of the control of Google. Questions of blame aside, this issue comes down to a matter of trust. Clearly, people trusted the information they saw on an automated news service, and acted accordingly. The lesson learned is that we should not be so quick to place trust in the machine.

From Trust To Anti-Trust

There is another trust - actually, anti-trust - issue of late, and this issue goes to the heart of Google's business model - online advertising.

Google's proposed Yahoo partnership is raising fresh antitrust woes. Regulators are starting to look more closely at Google's role in the world of online advertising. Will this deal give Google too much control of the online advertising space? Yahoo claims this partnership will create more market access, and provide better ROI, to advertisers. Advertisers fear that Google could use market dominance to set higher prices for search ads.

Forward-thinking SEOs may be licking their lips at that prospect, but I doubt many small website owners who rely on PPC will be too happy.

Smoke & Mirrors

In a related example, Aaron reported on a feature in The New York Times about how Google refused to tell the owner of a directory why his bid prices had skyrocketed.

"When I pressed Mr. Fox about Sourcetool, he refused to tell me why the algorithm had problems with the site. When I asked him why the business.com site was in the algorithm’s good graces but Sourcetool’s wasn’t, he wouldn’t tell me that, either. All I got were platitudes about the user experience. It wasn’t long before I was almost as exasperated as Mr. Savage. How can you adapt your business model to Google’s specs if Google won’t tell you what the specs are?"

A similar dual-tier system appears in to be in operation in the organic search results. Greg Boser has a great post about this entitled "Why Big Brands Should Spam Search Engines".

"I wouldn’t hesitate because I understand that if a search engine happens to stumble upon what it considers improper SEO techniques all on their own, they will more than likely contact us directly to discuss the matter. Getting kicked out of the database won’t even be a consideration. If our improper SEO tactics happens to get outed publicly by some gung-ho blogger, or one of the many competitors competing for our terms, I know that all we’ll get is a tiny slap on the wrist to show the world that the particular search engine is serious about web spam. And once our public scolding is completed, we will instantly be allowed to cut to the front of the confessional line".

We all remember the BMW incident.

Google may well enjoy a significant trust level, but they couldn't exactly be described as transparent, or consistent. The Adwords and Adsense systems have become a hall of smoke and mirrors, where some players get a free ride, whilst others get hammered. There is often little or no explanation given as to why. With transparency comes trust, and the often secretive Google could do a lot more to provide clarity.

Cases of this nature are always complicated and it is unlikely much will change in the short term. Many of us simply wish that Google would be a lot more transparent about how webmasters can use, and build upon, their platform.

I suspect that, going forward, saying "Trust Us!" won't be good enough.

Published: September 16, 2008

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Comments

September 16, 2008 - 5:12am

Still get away with a lot as well when it comes to Google and others.

September 16, 2008 - 5:48am

"Your just going to have to trust me." -Jack Bauer

How many times have we heard that? :)

September 16, 2008 - 8:27am

Especially the difference between small and big companies and the non-transparency is very frustrating. If Google decides not to show BMW, or any other well known company users will dislike google for not showing important results.

In the end, the large companies will be on top and the smaller ones will dissapear. Subsequently, the user will get the feeling that it only finds large companies and not the special niche sites it was looking for.

Either way, Google has an issue by cutting out certain search results. THe thing Google does is being fierce non-transparent and and strict hoping that most webmasters will try to oblige the rules.

If however, to many people at the same time start to cross the Google line it will be difficult to penalize them all leading to a lower quality search engine.

I am very curious where this is heading. I think Google is getting so non transparent that they are widening the possibilities for competition.

September 16, 2008 - 9:28am

Especially the difference between small and big companies and the non-transparency is very frustrating. If Google decides not to show BMW, or any other well known company users will dislike google for not showing important results.

But Google can easily change how they penalize large sites...allowing them to still rank for brand related and navigational queries while preventing them from ranking for other search queries.

September 16, 2008 - 11:31am

Googles commitment to self interest means that in the not too distant future we will ONLY EVER be creating documents in google docs, only ever checking email in gmail and only surfing local sites and services (unless you click an advert)

the later = bad times!

September 16, 2008 - 12:29pm

When the market share of a company is almost 70%, do we have a choice? Love or hate – we have to trust Google.

Recently SEOBOOK posted an article on branding. Google is now a brand – a huge brand. And “good” brands are made because we trusted them, had faith in them.

Aaron, can you live a single day WITHOUT searching what you want in Google?

Today Google is deciding what information we will get on the internet. Except for where their business is hit very hard (I think it should be for few searches only – less competition), I don’t think Google is company we cannot trust.

September 16, 2008 - 2:16pm

Nice article Peter.

"I suspect that, going forward, saying "Trust Us!" won't be good enough."

That may be true for webmasters and marketers, but I think it will take significantly longer for the public to reach that point, if ever. Those more in the "know" likely lost trust in Enron before the public masses were alerted by the evening news. As long as people are getting what they *feel* are good results from Google, will they ever have a reason not to trust? What could Google do to their average user to lose that faith? As long as those users are there, there will be businesses wanting to advertise to them.

September 16, 2008 - 6:56pm

No Google can’t be trusted. And must be made smaller.

Those that say they will work to get away from PPC and work long term business strategy ON SEOing their way to good positions are deluding themselves. They are still relying on the integrity of a company that has time and again proven to be dishonest.

Just this months Google re ran an almost 7 year old 9/11 Airlines News Story that Cost United Airlines investors 1 BILLION Dollars!

They can tell when we dupe an article selling a 25.00 Click Bank E-book but cannot tell if a news story from 9/11 is a dupe!

Now G is working on off shoring their center to get away from ALL oversight. And By Offshore i mean floating ship data centers!

September 16, 2008 - 10:40pm

"They are a world-leading enterprise, employing over 22,000 people. Fortune named them "America's Most Innovative Company". They also run various online marketplace services, through which a vast amount of money flows. They are a trusted name in households across the country. It is the year 2000, and that company is Enron." That was genius. I was totally not expecting the punchline!

Also, re adsense smoke and mirrors. When I was starting out as a webmaster, i monetized with adsense. I stopped after a while, short of the $100 mark required for payout (ridiculous relative to competing monetization platforms imho, but that's another issue). A few months ago, I tried logging in with all of the three gmail account I own. None worked. Google effectively decided that since I'd been inactive, they could steal my share of the pie for the clicks generated on my site.

September 17, 2008 - 1:05am

It is fair to say Google has nothing in common with Enron, other than the fact they are a big company

Maybe I remember incorrectly, but I thought that Enron built its early reputation on its innovative trading algorithms?

September 18, 2008 - 5:10pm

Its a two edged sword and I am really not sure why google should be blamed for such incidents but I strongly feels we need a better and strong search engine as google is getting way too stronger taking away everything.

Pushkar
http://nbridges.com/blog
(Aaron, My first comment after 39 weeks on this blog) :)

September 18, 2008 - 7:45pm

Welcome to the site nBridges Media. :)

September 21, 2008 - 5:35am

Google can and will do evil. I only need to refer you to the recent antitrust lawsuit filed by Sourcetool.com

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/13/technology/13nocera.html?_r=3&pagewant...

I'm just glad our business model wasn't setup like these poor guys.

Best,

Breakline

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