Tech expert: Google search results are self-serving, and a conflict of interest

Oct 21, 2020, 5:46 PM | Updated: Oct 22, 2020, 8:40 am
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Google is being sued for allegedly protecting its monopoly illegally, and many believe the company simply has too much power. Geoffrey Fowler, a technology columnist with The Washington Post, joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss the case.

“I think the picture is emerging that the Google that we think about as the young upstart, the guys in the Stanford dorm room working on building a company, just doesn’t exist anymore,” he said.

Fowler has written about how Google search results can be very self-serving, often not providing the best information.

“You see that over time Google has added a lot more advertisements to the top of search results, and those advertisements look more and more like actual search results. We have to do a lot more scrolling to actually get to the results of these days. It’s a little bit like Where’s Waldo?, but for information, that’s one problem that emerged,” he said.

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“Another problem that emerged is that Google increasingly puts at the top of search results information that leads you back to Google,” he added. “I’m talking about Google YouTube results or Google Images or Google Maps, and there’s a little bit of a conflict of interest there because, first of all, they don’t necessarily always give you the best information, and second of all, Google makes more money from them and uses them to collect more of your data.”

Is this being done deliberately? Or would it turn out if we did some research that the Google option in the search results was verifiably higher quality?

“Now Google would claim, of course, that it always gives us the most useful and and helpful information at the top. That’s what they say they’re always doing. And they claim, of course, they have our interests at heart. But the truth of the matter is Google is a very profit maximizing corporation,” he said.

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“So whenever it has the opportunity to either make some money by putting more ads or kind of drive you back to the Google property as it tries to go deeper into things like video, and travel, and maps, it’s going to do that, too,” Fowler said. “My take is that at its core, Google has a conflict of interest now because it’s trying to get into so many things.”

Fowler says this monopoly is potentially bad for consumers, bad for the economy, and stifles innovation.

“The Department of Justice didn’t actually call for Google to be split up per se, but I think that that we’re at a point where Google is just kind of the tip of the iceberg of Washington realizing that there are a couple of tech companies that frankly just have too much power over the internet economy, which increasingly is becoming our entire economy,” he said.

“And that is bad for consumers, but also just bad for our economy. It stifles innovation. I mean, good luck to anybody who wanted to start a rival search engine right now,” Fowler added. “It couldn’t even gain any traction at all because Google has locked up these contracts with companies like Apple to be the default search engine on all those iPhones. And, you know, their core argument here is that, well, people choose Google because Google is great and everybody loves Google. But if that was the case, would it really be spending that much money with Apple to make sure it’s the default?”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Tech expert: Google search results are self-serving, and a conflict of interest