< The Case Against Google

Transcript

Friday, August 12, 2011

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.

BOB GARFIELD:

And I'm Bob Garfield.

[SONG UP AND UNDER]]

SPUTNIKO SINGING:

I’m too shy to talk to you, so I just Google your name. Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Google your na-me.

BOB GARFIELD:

Consider this golden oldie. “For everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Remember who said that? [LAUGHS] No problem. Just ask, seek, and knock – online. In other words, Google it. This hour we will explore the many ways in which Google Googleth, for better or worse, starting with the implications of its gargantuan size.

For years, the world’s dominant search engine has been in the crosshairs of antitrust watchdogs seeking a level playing field for competitors. Currently, Google faces a Federal Trade Commission investigation and ongoing European government probes, but so far, says Danny Sullivan, proprietor of the website Search Engine Land, no one can find any proof that Google is strong arming its competitors.

DANNY SULLIVAN:

Yeah, and that’s one of their biggest defenses, that they continue to say that people are voluntarily choosing them if they don't want to use them, it’s not like they have to install a new operating system, they can simply go use another search engine quite easily.

Google has done deals with companies to become the default search engine, as - as, just as Microsoft has done, but there’s been no suggestion that they've somehow strong-armed their way into making that happen. They simply dropped enough cash to make it appealing.

BOB GARFIELD:

That said, some websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor have said that essentially Google has done two things, number one, steal their content for their own Google Places service. What’s Google Places?

DANNY SULLIVAN:

It’s Google’s local search engine.

BOB GARFIELD:

And, and secondly, that they actually put Google Places links in their search results above Yelp or TripAdvisor, even if organically the results shouldn't shake out that way.

DANNY SULLIVAN:

People go to Google all the time in search for local information, so Google decided that it makes sense for them to run their own local search engine. That’s not unusual. Yahoo! had their own local search engine. And as part of creating that, they have actually tapped into some of these other local search engines that are out there and, and provided links to them.

But then there’s just this bigger issue that some people feel like if you do a search at Google, if they suggest that you go into their local search engine then somehow they're favoring their local search engine over other local search engines, and then it shouldn't be allowed.

BOB GARFIELD:

Is there anything about Google particularly, because it is so enormous, that you are worried about and you think we should be worried about, as well?

DANNY SULLIVAN:

The things that I've heard expressed about Google on antitrust grounds don't resonate with me. I, I tend to think that those are not actually legitimate concerns and they probably wouldn't hold up, and they only seem to be getting investigated by people who really don't understand how search engines work.

One argument is that Google is not supposed to have its own vertical search engines over others. It’s as if you said that The New York Times, because it has its own entertainment section and its own sports section and its own business section, is being unfair to the Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and that when you buy your New York Times you really should have a choice of inside of it you get business from the Wall Street Journal and a sports section from The L.A. Times, if that’s what you would prefer.

That [LAUGHS] – maybe, maybe that’s what consumers would love to be able to do, but The New York Times has put out a complete newspaper that it thinks provides the best information in these areas.

So when Google runs a vertical search engine, it’s as if people are saying, well, even though you do this Web search stuff, we think that images ought to be coming from - Bing, or that we think that your local results ought to come from Yelp, and so you should be using them instead. And if you take that to its ultimate conclusion, then it means that any kind of search you do on Google should just be leading you off to somebody else’s search engine, rather than leading you to destination sites.

BOB GARFIELD:

It sounds to me that you’re pretty comfortable with where Google stands in the marketplace, that you don't think the government should be paying special attention to it just on the grounds of its enormous size. Is, is that your view?

DANNY SULLIVAN:

[LAUGHS] I think that what worries me about Google is that when you have so many people searching on your search engine, when you have so many websites that are using your analytical code or your payment systems, you’re receiving so much information about what people may like or not like, that it can be difficult for competitors to have as complete a picture and then perhaps come up with a, a rival product. That’s of a concern to me.

As a company, I also tend to get nervous when they go into some of these new areas that just seem radically off the mark of, of what they're supposed to be doing as a – well, not even in the idea of organizing the world’s information. The automated driving cars are very cool and I have been in them. They still remain a mystery to me as to how they fit in with Google’s greater, [LAUGHS] greater glory. I – you know, perhaps we'll see. [LAUGHS]

BOB GARFIELD:

Hm.

DANNY SULLIVAN:

But I don't know that I need the government to step in and say to Google, oh and by the way, you can't do automated driving cars either.

BOB GARFIELD:

Hey, as long as they stay out of the media criticism game, you know, I'm cool.

DANNY SULLIVAN:

[LAUGHS] Yeah, I don't think they have any plans.

BOB GARFIELD:

Danny, thank you very much.

DANNY SULLIVAN:

Thank you very much for having me.

BOB GARFIELD:

Danny Sullivan is the editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land. He’s also cofounder and chief content officer for Third Door Media.