Search Neutrality

A principle that search engines should have no editorial policies, excepting their preferences for comprehensiveness, impartiality, and relevance.

Google to Comply With EU Search Demands to Avoid More Fines

Google will comply with Europe’s demands to change the way it runs its shopping search service, a rare instance of the internet giant bowing to regulatory pressure to avoid more fines. The Alphabet Inc unit faced an Aug 29 deadline to tell the European Union how it planned to follow an order to stop discriminating against rival shopping search services in the region.

The EU fined Google a record 2.4 billion euros ($2.7 billion) in late June for breaking antitrust rules by skewing its general search results to unfairly favor its own shopping service over rival sites. The company had 60 days to propose how it would "stop its illegal content" and 90 days to make changes to how the company displays shopping results when users search for a product. Those changes need to be put in place by Sept. 28 to stave off a risk that the EU could fine the company 5 percent of daily revenue for each day it fails to comply. "The obligation to comply is fully Google’s responsibility," the European Commission said. The onus is on Google to find a solution that satisfies regulators, who’ve learned from past battles with Microsoft and Intel.

How Hate Groups Forced Online Platforms to Reveal Their True Nature

The recent rise of all-encompassing internet platforms promised something unprecedented and invigorating: venues that unite all manner of actors — politicians, media, lobbyists, citizens, experts, corporations — under one roof. These companies promised something that no previous vision of the public sphere could offer: real, billion-strong mass participation; a means for affinity groups to find one another and mobilize, gain visibility and influence. This felt and functioned like freedom, but it was always a commercial simulation. This contradiction is foundational to what these internet companies are. ]

These platforms draw arbitrary boundaries constantly and with much less controversy — against spammers, concerning profanity or in response to government demands. These fringe groups saw an opportunity in the gap between the platforms’ strained public dedication to discourse stewardship and their actual existence as profit-driven entities, free to do as they please. Despite their participatory rhetoric, social platforms are closer to authoritarian spaces than democratic ones. It makes some sense that people with authoritarian tendencies would have an intuitive understanding of how they work and how to take advantage of them.

EU Court to Rule on ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ Outside Europe

The European Union’s top court is set to decide whether the bloc’s “right to be forgotten” policy stretches beyond Europe’s borders, a test of how far national laws can—or should—stretch when regulating cyberspace. The case stems from France, where the highest administrative court on July 19 asked the EU’s Court of Justice to weigh in on a dispute between Alphabet's Google and France’s privacy regulator over how broadly to apply the right, which allows EU residents to ask search engines to remove some links from searches for their own names.

At issue: Can France force Google to apply it not just to searches in Europe, but anywhere in the world? The case will set a precedent for how far EU regulators can go in enforcing the bloc’s strict new privacy law. It will also help define Europe’s position on clashes between governments over how to regulate everything that happens on the internet—from political debate to online commerce. France’s regulator says enforcement of some fundamental rights—like personal privacy—is too easily circumvented on the borderless internet, and so must be implemented everywhere. Google argues that allowing any one country to apply its rules globally risks upsetting international law and, when it comes to content, creates a global censorship race among autocrats.

You should be outraged at Google’s anti-competitive behavior

[Commentary] After an extensive investigation, the European Union found that Google has, for many years, violated European antitrust law by rigging its general search results to favor its own comparison shopping service over rivals. But a recent Post editorial faults the EU for imposing a $2.7 billion fine on the company. The editorial board questioned whether Google’s conduct hurt either competitors (who were just “unlucky,” according to The Post) or consumers. It claimed that users “may well prefer to see” Google’s results first and that the fine “seems to be a case of punishment without crime.” This view ignores the facts.

Google painstakingly executed a strategy to increase its search-ad revenue by making it both possible and necessary for merchants to raise prices to consumers, as a review of studies from the EU, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and others show. And as a result, Google’s ad revenue has soared at the expense of its users.

[Gary Reback is a Silicon Valley antitrust lawyer at Carr & Ferrell LLP]

Google grows up

Google suddenly grew up at midday June 27 — and the way it conducts business in Europe and probably further afield will have to catch up fast.

Likely more important in the immediate future for Google, which rejects the findings and says it may appeal, the decision will serve as a model for regulators across the globe closely scrutinizing Google, from Seoul to Brasilia, and it will bolster those in the U.S. trying to prod domestic regulators into action. “As matters now stand, the Commission is the primary regulator of internet services in the Western world,” said David Cantor, a Brussels-based technology lawyer. In addition, the decision hurts Google’s otherwise stellar brand and reputation. Its “search franchise is built upon the notion that it is an honest broker of the world’s information,” said Scott Cleland, a founder of consultancy Precursor, an adviser to Google rivals and a trenchant critic of Google. That damage can work in significant and long-lasting ways. For example, Microsoft’s aggressive tactics and antitrust problems made it less attractive to some of the best engineers and university talent, who opted to join nicer companies — like Google.

European Union fines Google €2.4 billion over abuse of search dominance

The European Commission has hit Google with a €2.42 billion (approximately $2.73 billion) antitrust fine for abusing its dominance in search, a decision with potentially far-reaching implications for both the tech sector and already strained transatlantic relations.

The European Commission ended its seven-year competition investigation, concluding that the search group had abused its near-monopoly in online search to “give illegal advantage” to its own shopping service. Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, said Google “denied other companies the chance to compete” and left consumers without “genuine choice”. “Google’s strategy for its comparison shopping service wasn’t just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals. Instead, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results and demoting those of competitors. What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules.” The company has 90 days to make changes and must “refrain from any measure that has the same or an equivalent object or effect”, the commission said.

Google faces $1 billion EU fine for abuse of dominance in search

Brussels plans to hit Google with a fine of more than $1.2 billion for abusing its dominance in search, a decision that is likely to inflame already strained transatlantic relations. European Union antitrust officials have formally recommended that the search giant be found in breach of competition regulations for using its near-monopoly in online search to steer customers unfairly to its own Google Shopping service. The final decision is expected to be made on June 28 by the EU college of commissioners, the collective decision-making body, apparently. The decision relates to one of three competition claims against the company being investigated by EU authorities and would be the first sanction by a leading competition regulator on the way Google operates.

Twenty years after Reno v. ACLU, the long arc of internet history returns

Twenty years ago, on June 26, 1996, the US Supreme Court unanimously decided Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, which found the communications decency provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to be unconstitutional. Applying strict scrutiny under the First Amendment, the Supreme Court concluded that unlike broadcasting – where the Federal Communications Commission’s indecency regulation has been upheld due to the unique characteristics of that medium – no content regulation with a justification of online child protection would be allowed. This means that there continues to be no content restrictions on what American internet users can send or receive.

Viewed in contemporary context, two lessons from Reno v. ACLU endure. First, as a constitutional law matter, there is a firewall for US government restrictions on any non-obscene online content. In turn, this virtually unfettered freedom has fueled the pervasiveness of the internet in our lives. Remember, Facebook and the world of online apps – which now exceed websites as the go-to sources online – did not even exist then. Mark Zuckerberg was only 13 years old when the court decision was released, and other app content pioneers such as Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel were still in elementary school.

This leads to the case’s second legacy, which is more implicit but also of great importance. Given the continuing inability to predict the speed and scale of internet development or changing consumer preferences, there seems to be a subtext in that government may find it difficult to develop broad prescriptive long-lasting approaches to internet regulation. The FCC favored this ex ante approach when crafting the Open Internet order under the Obama Administration. Under new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the agency seems to favor a revision that limits government oversight to the Federal Trade Commission’s traditional enforcement authority. As the FCC compiles its rulemaking record to justify this significant change in approach, it would not be surprising to see the Reno v. ACLU decision used to support a return of this light-touch regulatory framework.