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Google and EU Reach Tentative Settlement in Antitrust Case

Unknown Lamer posted about 8 months ago | from the move-icon-50px-to-avoid-fine dept.

EU 45

AmiMoJo writes "Google has agreed to display competing site's results along side those from its own products in search results. The agreement comes as part of an EU investigation into Google's domination of the search market and its promotion of Google products at the top of each page. The EU has published screenshots (scroll down) showing how the changes will look once rolled out." Part of the deal includes Google avoiding any fines. The appearance changes to search results are minor; Google services in the results are more strongly highlighted as such, and links to alternative services are provided (e.g. Yelp for Google Local results). Less visible are the major changes: third parties will be able to opt-out of having their data used for specialized Google searches, and "Google proposes no longer to include in its agreements with publishers any written or unwritten obligations that would require them to source online search advertisements exclusively from Google ... [or] to impose obligations that would prevent advertisers from porting or managing search advertising campaigns across competing advertising platforms."

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Nice (3, Insightful)

Nerdfest (867930) | about 8 months ago | (#46163545)

Damn nice to see that last part about competing ad platforms. That sort of clause is the sort of thing I would expect Apple to do. It's pretty blatently ant-competitive.

Re:Nice (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 8 months ago | (#46164041)

Dissent. On the right side, I see a pile of results from online stores. The first line result is from Google Froogle. Now you're going to mix them so I have to do some mental work to pick apart the two? I can't just blindly click "that's what I want, let's see who sells it" versus "that's what I want... at Sears.com eh?"

Re:Nice (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | about 8 months ago | (#46164253)

I'm not talking about that stuff, as I agree with you. I don't like people trying to lock people out of using competing services. This stuff:

no longer to include in its agreements with publishers any written or unwritten obligations that would require them to source online search advertisements exclusively from Google ... [or] to impose obligations that would prevent advertisers from porting or managing search advertising campaigns across competing advertising platforms.

.

That's just wrong and should be stopped.

Re:Nice (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | about 8 months ago | (#46164411)

I never use Froogle (actually Product search now). It's always been like shifting through a pool filled with shit to find a gem.

Re:Nice (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 8 months ago | (#46164483)

A gem would be incredibly easy to find in a pool filled with shit.

Re:Nice (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | about 8 months ago | (#46165135)

You're welcome to give it a go.

depends (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46166067)

Depends on the depth and consistency.

what does Apple have to do with this? (1)

Scowler (667000) | about 8 months ago | (#46164915)

Apple? They did get slapped with anti-trust issues when colluding with publishers on e-book pricing. Apart from that, though, Apple is a curious choice when finding examples of technology companies with past anti-trust abuses. The far more obvious picks here would have been Microsoft or Bell Labs.

Re:Nice (2)

Linnsey Miller (2993021) | about 8 months ago | (#46165247)

If I wanted to use a competing platform, I wouldn't be going to google.com. I'm not, I'm going to google for google's search, not to be spammed with crappy "alternates".

Re:Nice (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | about 8 months ago | (#46165941)

Once again, I'm not talking about search results here. I'm talking about contracts that forbid you from using competing services.

Re:Nice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46166165)

And if you wanted to use a competing platform you wouldn't be buying a Windows PC. Thus, Microsoft should be allowed to put anything they want in their OS.

Re:Nice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46171247)

Yes, they should be allowed that.

Re:Nice (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 7 months ago | (#46174571)

Damn nice to see that last part about competing ad platforms. That sort of clause is the sort of thing I would expect Apple to do. It's pretty blatently ant-competitive.

One has to wonder how much Google pays Apple to keep up the idea of competition with iAds. Given the only reason Google could acquire AdMob (THE largest mobile advertising company out there) was because earlier that year, Steve Jobs announced iAds. Which is quite curious since AdMob advertises everywhere, while iAds was very restrictive. It's like saying that Ferrari and Toyota are competitors.

(iAds initially required a $1M commitment (reduced to $100K now I believe), and Apple opened it ot developers when few, if any, people actually use it. I think the only reason it's still "running" at all is because Google keeps it there to offer "competition").

Retarded (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46163565)

I think we all know that this is fucking retarded, and that, were Google a European company, none of this would be happening.

Re:Retarded (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46163693)

Google IS a European company, its based in Ireland. I agree that it is retarded as it seems pitifully inadequate and lenient.

Re:Retarded (1)

wjcofkc (964165) | about 8 months ago | (#46164375)

Google is an American company with offices in Ireland, but they are not based in Ireland. In case you haven't been keeping track the last few years, Ireland has become one the tech capitals of the world. All major American technology companies have offices there. It's called the Silicon Valley of Ireland, sometimes referred to as the Silicon Valley of Europe.

Re:Retarded (2)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | about 8 months ago | (#46164431)

They are there for tax avoidance reasons. But Google Ireland is certainly a company and if Google wants to retain it they need to play ball. I can't see their investors being happy if Europe decided to block their services.

Re:Retarded (1)

AlphaWolf_HK (692722) | about 8 months ago | (#46165697)

What would they do, mandate that ISPs start filtering google.com?

Re:Retarded (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | about 8 months ago | (#46167111)

If they wanted to they could. It wouldn't be favourable but what else could they if an internet company that has offices in the EU doesn't want to play by the rules? They can't make them close up shop until they sort out the problems.

Re:Retarded (1)

AlphaWolf_HK (692722) | about 7 months ago | (#46193187)

How would they be able to do that even if they wanted to? They already want to filter out the pirate bay and they can't even do that successfully. Furthermore, they'd need a pretty damn good reason to effectively break all of the freedom of speech laws that each of the EU member nations have.

Re:Retarded (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | about 7 months ago | (#46194747)

Can you name one law that stops 100% of the people from doing something? I don't think there are any because anyone determined enough will do it. But to say filtering Pirate Bay hasn't stopped a lot of people or that filter google wouldn't stop most people is a bit silly. Most people are barely technical enough to use their computer as it is.

Re:Retarded (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46164759)

Keep on believing that shit, retard.

Culling the last of the good (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46163675)

So in summary, google did evil (once again) and to punish it, google is being forced to do away with one of its few remaining good deeds (giving smaller retailers a more even footing with big companies). Thanks big gov-corp-bank-iont.

Less Useful (3, Insightful)

swv3752 (187722) | about 8 months ago | (#46163713)

So while Google has to stop anti-competitive practices, they also have to make there web pages less useful. Brilliant.

Re:Less Useful (1, Insightful)

QuasiSteve (2042606) | about 8 months ago | (#46163883)

Kind of like the decision of Windows * N, offered without windows media player?

And one can counter that "at least the user can still download an alternative media player", but then.. so could they with the regular version.

I'm not sure how Google's web pages are going to be less useful anyway. It's still going to give you Google's top results, just a few less of them to make space for alternatives. If those alternatives are demonstrably bad, then sure they don't deserve a spot in there. But if they're reasonably good, surely it only helps the user to check further options?

Whether or not Google should be forced to do this by political/regulatory mandate is another matter.

Re:Less Useful (2)

dkman (863999) | about 8 months ago | (#46164353)

That's why I didn't want IE removed from Windows - because it's what I use to go download Firefox. It would be nice to be able to remove it afterwards, though.

Re:Less Useful (1)

swillden (191260) | about 8 months ago | (#46166315)

If those alternatives are demonstrably bad, then sure they don't deserve a spot in there. But if they're reasonably good, surely it only helps the user to check further options?

Maybe.

It depends on how Google allocates spots. If Google's own properties compete fairly with the competitors in the ranking algorithm, with no favoritism shown, and if Google's ranking algorithm is good, then this change represents a reduction in utility. If Google artificially bumps their own properties, then it may be an improvement.

I strongly suspect that the former is the case, since it's just the way Google does things. If some team asked the ad ranking team to artificially inflate its position I'm all but certain the response would be "Our data shows that your service is 8.3% less useful to users than service X, so 62.1% of the time your service is ranked below X. If you make your service more useful, then our algorithm will rank you higher."

(Disclaimer: I work for Google, but don't speak for Google and don't know anything about how ad ranking is done. I do know a bit about how Google culture works, though, and my scenario is totally believable.)

Re:Less Useful (1)

QuasiSteve (2042606) | about 8 months ago | (#46166669)

It's a bit of a problem where by being the leading product, promoting your other products - even if inferior - allows you to make those products appear to be more popular, which in turn gets more people using them, which in turn means (at least as I understand the most basic aspects of ranking - I know there's way more variables) that it gets a higher spot.

Even if there's no favoritism being shown now, any past favoritism would have already skewed the market.

In addition, I question whether showing competing products - even if inferior - is a reduction in utility. Is it a reduction in the quality if quality is defined as 'show the top N solutions', yes. But utility could easily be 'show me solutions from different vendors'.

Slightly off-topic perhaps, but tangentially related... on imgur there was a post about 'good guy google' when faced with the query (and I'm sure I don't have this right word for word): how to commit suicide.
Google gave a header with a number to call in the U.S. (I guess only if it was a US IP), and a bunch of suicide prevention sites.
Bing gave a bunch of sites that, lo and behold, presented a variety of methods to commit suicide.

Bing unquestionably gave the user what they wanted. Google gave the user pretty much the opposite (arguments about 'cry for help' aside). So while Bing had greater quality, Google had greater utility - as determined by the good imgur/reddit people.

I think that the reworked results page is a compromise - Google still gets to put their products / the top results (regardless of overlap) first, but also shows alternatives.

Again, whether that force for compromise should be coming out of political / regulatory aspects is something I'm less convinced about. But if untouched, I really don't see any reason for Google not to just put their own products at the top, and not even bother mentioning alternatives, except maybe way down the search results. Would that make people use other search engines instead, or would it give people the impression that Google's products are simply best? Might be an interesting study.. bit unethical to run live on the mass populace though :)

Re:Less Useful (1)

swillden (191260) | about 8 months ago | (#46167339)

It's a bit of a problem where by being the leading product, promoting your other products - even if inferior - allows you to make those products appear to be more popular, which in turn gets more people using them, which in turn means (at least as I understand the most basic aspects of ranking - I know there's way more variables) that it gets a higher spot.

Perhaps. This really gets into a question of what the ranking algorithm is measuring, and whether or not it does what it's supposed to do. Given that neither of us knows anything about how Google actually does it, that line of discussion is fruitless :-)

I think that the reworked results page is a compromise - Google still gets to put their products / the top results (regardless of overlap) first, but also shows alternatives.

I don't disagree. I'm not sure that it's the best thing for the user, but neither is terrible. At worst it damages Google slightly in exchange for giving regulators some confidence that they don't have to just trust Google and its algorithms. I think it's a reasonable compromise.

But if untouched, I really don't see any reason for Google not to just put their own products at the top, and not even bother mentioning alternatives, except maybe way down the search results.

I see plenty of reason, as long as Google is -- and remains -- a company that is focused on the long run. In the long run, the best thing for Google's ad ranking team is to continue providing the maximum possible value to users and advertisers (both). Some will argue that ads provide no value to users, but to the extent that users click the ads and come away from the process feeling like they achieved their goals, the ads are valuable to the users, which makes them more valuable to advertisers and Google. While it may benefit the team that owns some other Google property to get an artificially-boosted rank, if that choice lowers the overall utility of the search engine to users, even a little bit, then it lowered the value to Google. In addition, bumping a Google property up means bumping a paying advertiser down, which means there's a direct revenue hit from the decision. Now, if the bumped-up property gets the click and generates revenue greater than the loss, that's a good trade... but notice that this is exactly the same evaluation that advertisers must make when deciding how much to bid for ad placement.

Therefore, the most rational choice for Google is to make Google properties compete for position along with all of the others -- perhaps up to and including paying for the ad placement, even if it's money that just moves from one portion of Google's balance sheet to another, but money that is counted against the internal profit/loss statement of the advertised property. Then each team can focus on optimizing its service; the ad team on maximizing user satisfaction and ad revenue (which aren't the same thing, but aren't unrelated either) and the other property on maximizing their utility and their decisions about ad spending.

huh? (1)

micahraleigh (2600457) | about 8 months ago | (#46164691)

How is this more anti-competitive than McDonalds' refusing to sell Wendy's products?

Its a dependency issue... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46165461)

Because Wendy's doesn't have to rely on McDonalds in order for people to find them.

Since Google dominates (something like 80%) in search volume, deciding to take your website elsewhere isn't really an option if you want to succeed.

Search Engines lead people to content. When they start providing content they are blurring the line, and when they start actively promoting their own content over others they are blowing the line out of the water.

In related news... (2, Informative)

jkrise (535370) | about 8 months ago | (#46163715)

Florian Mueller had an apoplexy on hearing the news; and is trying his damnedest to put a negative spin on big bad Google.

Sponsored section (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46163785)

I'm not sure how the EU can mandate results in the "Sponsored" section. If alternatives get in for free, then they're no longer "sponsored". If Google decides the price, then they can charge 1 billion dollar per impression to exclude everyone except their own products. Is the EU mandating the price?

Re:Sponsored section (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46163913)

Sort of. From the article:

Rivals will have to pay Google each time their results are shown next to the search giant’s own results through a bidding process overseen by an independent monitor, according to European officials.

Google needs to bend over (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46163947)

It's gotten way out of control!

Alternatives vs choice (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46164033)

Will I get the choice to turn alternatives off, should I choose to not see them?

Another Point for Bing (2, Insightful)

sexconker (1179573) | about 8 months ago | (#46164873)

Seriously people, just use Bing.
Sign up for the Rewards shit and get free Redbox rentals or free gift cards for Amazon.com .
You'll get a massively better search experience for porn, and a better search experience for maps (this is more subjective though - I love Bing's aerial view), and almost an identical search experience for everything else. Bing doesn't have all the bells and whistles of Google (I don't think they have auto translate or reverse image search) but for 99.999% of what I search for, Bing gets me there just as fast as Google, and they pay me for the privilege.

Regardless of what you use, remember to block ads always and block javascript by default. Fuck em. The ad-supported web is a cesspool, and if the internet ad business died tonight we'd all be better off in terms of privacy, security, performance, layout and design, speed, and probably even content - no more aggregators, much less spam and far fewer parked domains, fewer shitty youtube "celebrities", etc.

Re:Another Point for Bing (2)

pseudofrog (570061) | about 8 months ago | (#46166075)

Regardless of what you use, remember to block ads always and block javascript by default. Fuck em. The ad-supported web is a cesspool, and if the internet ad business died tonight we'd all be better off in terms of privacy, security, performance, layout and design, speed, and probably even content

And we'd all get to pay for this content. No thanks. I have some issues with the Internet, but I'm rather okay with it the way it is.

Re:Another Point for Bing (2)

sexconker (1179573) | about 8 months ago | (#46167843)

Regardless of what you use, remember to block ads always and block javascript by default. Fuck em. The ad-supported web is a cesspool, and if the internet ad business died tonight we'd all be better off in terms of privacy, security, performance, layout and design, speed, and probably even content

And we'd all get to pay for this content. No thanks. I have some issues with the Internet, but I'm rather okay with it the way it is.

I'd rather pay for content I want than have shit as it is now. But hey, maybe that's just because I'm not a useless teenage sponge and I actually have a job.

Re:Another Point for Bing (1)

pseudofrog (570061) | about 7 months ago | (#46169705)

Yeah! Fuck the third world! Fuck free access to information! I want my pages to look pretty and load marginally faster!

Re:Another Point for Bing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46209339)

So use Bing for Bang then?

Were they forced to change the search results? (1)

Linnsey Miller (2993021) | about 8 months ago | (#46165203)

In the shopping example, the results returned in the modified screen shot are crap. Did the EU force that too? That's not anti-competitive, that's anti-user.

why is there no default subject line anymore? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46167075)

Anyway. I was wondering the same thing.
Also are they mandating that on mobile devices there is a giant list that you have to scroll sideways to see?

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