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A British couple who took on Google and cost it £2.1B (wired.co.uk)
265 points by rbanffy 71 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 138 comments

Here is the money quote for myself: 'To the Raffs, this is Google’s real crime: its inaccessibility and unwillingness to respond, even to legitimate complaints. “We’ve never said that the fault was being penalised,” says Adam. “Collateral damage in complex algorithms is inevitable. The fault was not having a procedure by which we could appeal and get timely relief.” '

I've been dealing with exactly this myself recently. I had an old gmail hacked and stolen. Well the idiot didnt remove my main acct as the forwading address, so I began receiving emails for everything from his uber account to his facebook account.

No matter what answers I gave google about account creation, old passwords, no matter that I provided whatever they asked, that they sent a verification code that didn't even work, NOTHING restored my access. I even still have the forwarded emails! The emails themselves show how this kid took MY email.

Yet there is no way to get ahold of google other than their product forums, posting and praying to not get a cheap canned response (which is what happened to me).

It seems these companies, in trying to remove themselves from their users by as many degrees of separation as possible are doing this to themselves. If they simply interacted with their users and gave even the most rudimentary of ways to speak with someone (livechat, helpdesk, whatever) most of their problems would be handled at the first contact, instead of becoming huge issues which can possibly affect many people (try searching for 'gmail verification code wont work' or 'cant recover hacked gmail' it will be days of fun reading).

I was infuriated over simply losing an old worthless email to their shenanigans, I can't imagine seeing the startup I created stomped underfoot by a megacorp like an ant.

I used to LOVE google back in the early gmail/android days. They were the good guys. What happened?

I'd ask that we consider a different spectrum than good and bad, but naive and abused.

Look at LL Bean and their cancellation of their lifetime warranty [1]. That linked article talks about abuse of the warranty, but I'm fairly sure people were trolling through ebay + thrift shops and buying items to return and resell as new. That's abuse and they had to make changes to it.

Or consider how widely reviled PayPal is for how they "take" their customer's money and lock it up. I had a friend who worked there that described it as "a fraud detection company that occasionally takes payments". You can't even imagine the ingenious lengths people go to commit fraud and rip PayPal and other people off. So they have by necessity become this draconian organization.

When Google/Gmail was small it was easier, they were more naive. But now? I imagine every scammer in the world is trying to corrupt and steal gmail accounts as a stepping stone to greater fraud - and some significant portion are trying to do so by claiming that someone else's account was hacked and that ney need special access.

I don't think there's any easy answers to these thorny problems but forcing it into a false good/bad dichotomy isn't helping.

1 - https://slate.com/business/2018/02/l-l-bean-has-ended-unlimi...

Perhaps, but I think GP has a good first step:

gave even the most rudimentary of ways to speak with someone (livechat, helpdesk, whatever)

Otherwise, we are just guessing. Some will give them the benefit of the doubt. Some will assume the worst. The truth is simply somewhere in between.

The opposite of the LL Bean anecdote is a company that gave a lifetime warranty and made a name for itself in the nautical outerwear industry. People bought in part because of the warranty. After a few years they started having to make good on the warranty- not because of fraud, but because out wear doesn't last forever.

That's reasonable, but also consider that the Apple iCloud "hacking" from a few years back was largely social engineering Apple's tech support into providing them with enough information to get access.

>>When Google/Gmail was small it was easier, they were more naive. But now?

Poor Google. Even with ~ $100 Billion in yearly revenue and over $100 BILLION in cash they cannot hire customer support people?

10,000 new employees in a third world country at, say, $25,000 year (including other expenses) costs $250,000,000 a year. https://finance.yahoo.com/quote/GOOG/key-statistics?p=GOOG

> Yet there is no way to get ahold of google other than their product forums, posting and praying to not get a cheap canned response (which is what happened to me).

I believe the only way to get relief from Google is to know an insider, who can escalate to someone who can do something. All their public support channels are dead ends. Google sees you as a product, not a customer, and it's customer service skills are so bad that even if you're a real customer you can get the same treatment.

Stuff like this is why I switched to used Fastmail with my own domain.

> I used to LOVE google back in the early gmail/android days. They were the good guys. What happened?

I don't think anything happened. You just hit an important function that they're utterly terrible at.b Despite their success, they're clearly not omnicompetent.

You don't have to know an insider. Get your problem to the front page of a major news aggregator, and an insider will contact you promptly. HN seems to work very well, and I've heard good results from Reddit too.

Sometimes you can get that insider by becoming a customer of a different part of the company from the one that is giving you trouble.

We had an email problem with a major free email provider that also ran an advertising network (no, it was NOT Google or Microsoft...).

Our problem was that they kept deciding all the mail we sent to their users was spam. None of it was actually spam. The only things we were sending were:

• receipts for purchases

• installation instructions and license keys for whatever the user had just purchased

• if the user was on a subscription plan with a term longer than a month, a notice a few days before subscription billing that they were going to be billed

• responses to support tickets the user initiated

We'd complain to the louts running the email service, and they would fix it...and a month later it would happen again. Each time it took them longer and longer to fix it.

Then we realized we were spending a large amount buying ads on their ad network. Our guy in charge of ad buying called up our account rep at their advertising sales department, and asked why the heck we should keep paying them a large amount to drive customers to us, if they were going to make it so we could not communicate with those customers if those customers used their email service? It doesn't take a young Einstein to figure we shouldn't.

The account rep put our guy on hold a few minutes, then came back and had conference called in someone high up in their IT department, explained the problem. The IT department head conferenced in the person in charge of mail filtering and told him to put in a white list entry for us, and he wanted it done right away. About ten minutes later we were told it was done, and we never had another problem that I know of with email being misclassified as spam.

This disturbed me quite a bit. None of our mail was spam, so no one was harmed by that white list entry. But they had plenty of people using their ad network who were pushing sleazy products and who I greatly doubt only sent non-spam mail. Would they also be able to get white listed just be calling an ad rep and complaining?

We never had any spam classification problems with customers who used Google or Microsoft free email services, so have no idea if similar things work there, or if they keep a stronger separation between the ad network and the mail services.

In my more cynical moments I wonder if this sort of the thing might be the reason advertising companies run free email services. If they can amass a large number of email users, and they grant exceptions in the spam filters for their bigger advertisers, that provides an incentive to use their ad network over one with a smaller email service or without an email server, so you'll get more customers that you email market to at will.

We never had any spam classification problems with customers who used Google or Microsoft free email services, so have no idea if similar things work there, or if they keep a stronger separation between the ad network and the mail services.

My sister-in-law has a blog, email newsletter, and online store, all of which got blacklisted by Google after a number of her newsletter subscribers marked her letter as spam rather than unsubscribing. The only way she eventually fixed the problem was by finding a Googler contact who was able to get in touch with somebody who could whitelist her. A piss-poor way to run a business.

I was that guy many times (Former Spam, Abuse, Delivery SRE). You have to realize that %95 of the time when people reach out to report that mail that they are sending is getting canned its because they are sending SPAM and don't realize it. Seriously, all day, every day I got reports of "site x is unfairly being canned" only to go look up the data and see that the site is basically funneling hundreds of thousands of emails into the system and most users are making them as spam. We know the normal "I want to unsubscribe but I just click Spam instead" rates. We know an order of magnitude more than that as well, and most the time when people reach out they just don't understand email and how to have decent content people actually want.

And sometimes they are a sales rep that work with Pfizer, annoyed that regular correspondence about their top products were going to spam because they contained information about the price of Viagra..

We know an order of magnitude more than that as well, and most the time when people reach out they just don't understand email and how to have decent content people actually want.

The flip side of this is that many of us know the excuses big email services make about how bad a problem spam is and how our content might be spam and we just don't understand... when the content is the kind of reasonable and necessary communications that 'tzs mentioned further up in this thread.

I'm getting awfully bored of bounce messages from apparently credible organisations whose members have signed up, telling me that the legally required and personalised information we have just sent to our customer appears to be unsolicited bulk email. There has been a small wave of these recently, which leads me to think that someone screwed up a scoring system that multiple organisations are using to vet incoming traffic.

In any case, that's not a minor mistake, that's an automatic recognition system that is hopelessly inaccurate. It could even be dangerous, for example if a customer isn't getting notifications about payments and forgets they haven't cancelled a subscription, or if some action is required of them if they don't want to accept some change in terms for a service they use.

Oh I know.. trust me. I used to work in the team that handled that very problem and yet right now I can't get google to stop spam processing mails that fetches from my private IMAP server for my wife's gmail account. Everybody I know that was in that team has abandoned Google in the decade since I was there so I no longer have an easy in to figure out what is going on.

The problem is that for every single technical, competent person trying to reach google, there are 20 technical incompetent people who "know exactly what the problem is" (and don't), and 1,000 people who have a legit support problem that can be resolved with a google search, and 1,000,000 people who are just going to waste your time completely. =/

The moment you have direct support you have to respond to all of the above. There is no way to create a support team that just handles the clueful people.

I was on the dns contact email address which should be relatively hard to find right? Yea it was spam central with free energy devices, complaints about the government, etc. Its impossible to provide human support at the level that google is playing. =/

The moment you have direct support you have to respond to all of the above. There is no way to create a support team that just handles the clueful people.

Sure. But if my little businesses, with only a few people and a modest budget available to do literally everything, can manage to treat our customers with more attention and respect than one of the richest and most powerful businesses in the world, something is wrong.

Its impossible to provide human support at the level that google is playing. =/

Sorry, but I simply don't buy that. Google have grown huge and incomprehensibly rich thanks in part to technology but also in part to refusing to communicate with individuals when things go wrong (and, frankly, hoping they don't actually get called on it because it's not efficient for every little advertiser to sue for that $50 back when Google served their ads on obviously inappropriate sites or whatever). Like Facebook and other big organisations which have become highly influential through their scale and pseudo-monopoly status, Google now need to hire, train and support people -- lots of people -- in order to provide an acceptable level of communication if those dealing with them have problems.

If they can't do that then IMHO they should be sued, regulated or otherwise impaired until sufficient incentive/deterrent exists. The cost of letting these huge, influential organisations literally destroy businesses or wreck lives through their negligence is simply too high to allow the status quo to continue.

| Sure. But if my little businesses, with only a few people and a modest budget available to do literally everything, can manage to treat our customers with more attention and respect than one of the richest and most powerful businesses in the world, something is wrong.

2.2 Billion users. 74,000 employees. That's 300,000 users per employee. Converting Google's entire current operation into customer support, and assuming 1 ticket per year per customer, would require every Google employee to solve 1.7 tickets per minute (365/8) to keep up. Assuming a 5 minute ticket resolution (and still 1 ticket per year per user) would require 500,000 trained customer support personal to support that; assuming $20K per year, that equals to ~$10B. Google's profit was ~20B last year. This is not very likely to happen; and conditional it does, it would kill very large parts of the IT sector.

Can we kindly attempt to actually get to a solution that is actually mutually acceptable by all parties for this?

Clearly Google need to hire a lot more people if they are going to provide an acceptable level of support.

If that means their profits are significantly reduced, but they finally provide an acceptable standard of communications, I have no problem with that. How much of that $20B profit came from mistakes that hurt other people, which they only got away with because they didn't communicate and it wasn't worth suing them?

The current solution isn't acceptable either.

> There is no way to create a support team that just handles the clueful people

I've wished on occasion that someone would create a certification system, kind of like what we have for software engineers and system administrators, but for end users. Users could get certified in various aspect of operating and self-installing consumer technology, and when a certified user called tech support they could be directed past the tier of support that assumes the caller is an idiot.

What about pay per support request? I'd think the people who are desperately trying to get back their email account legitimately are going to be much more willing to pay, say $10, than a free energy crank. Presumably they could set the price at a level they can afford even if everyone and their brother use the support service.

Under adversarial conditions (basically, any large-scale ops), this becomes the highest-leverage way for adversaries to aggressively DDoS the weakest point of such support queue.

Also, consider the conditions:

* You are a scammer

* You pay $10 to Google to "fix getting back into your account"

* Google knows that account does not, actually belongs to you, but now are in a position, where they either: eat the $10 with a WONTFIX, and pave the way to a mass lawsuit or refund the $10, and have a free way for scammers to exploit.

"There is no way to create a support team that just handles the clueful people."

How about the option of paying $20 for a person at Google to read and respond to an email query? I would love that option and many other people would too, if the response was competent and reasonable.

They need to think of a way to have a xkcd tech support(https://xkcd.com/806/) like system. With all those "think out side the box" mindsets, someone should be able to come up with a workable solution.

I see an interesting parallel to malpractice liability for physicians. The well known and understood best way to avoid malpractice is not expertise or avoiding mistakes, it's having good beside manners and treating patients with respect. (Expertise and attention to detail are very, very important of course but have less impact on chances to get sued than these other soft factors, according to this advice.)

I've seen doctors miss cancers before and escape unscathed after frank discussions with the patient, while others that do everything technically correct are sued over a hangnail. Not saying missing cancer is "ok as long as your nice", I'm saying that people don't really sue over money, they sue over hurt feelings and seek retribution in monetary form. (There's a big exception to all this in the patients who are opportunistically seeking an opening to sue. They are simply dangerous to have as patients, but are usually quick to move on.)

Finally, the physician who has good bedside manners is also a better witness and more sympathetic to juries.

These can be hard lessons for techies who "aren't doing anything wrong".

> I used to LOVE google back in the early gmail/android days. They were the good guys. What happened?

By then they were already a very large company with lots of forces pulling them in different directions. Google were 'the good guys' right up until they became an advertising company, and it's been downhill from there.

Their chant of "Be less evil" was dead and buried 10+ years ago. They were the underdog in the beginning but absolute power corrupts absolutely. It was only a matter of time before they began to abuse their position as the world's leading search engine and positioned themselves as the internet gatekeepers.

They were never the good guys. Apple is not the bad guys. They are both huge corporations with tons of people with varying motivations and goals. You were and are creating a narrative about intentions that probably does not exist.

A single corporation has a few people with much greater power than most of the other people.

Pointing out that there are many people doesn't imply that intentions don't exist. Even if you work at Google, the people that you see and the intentions that you infer for them, might not truly reflect the intentions of the people higher up.

Yes but malintent is much rarer than oversight. Even for actions that hurt customers, are not truly a choice. Save for Google and Facebook, even CEOs that hurt the bottom line for a minor moral victory will be replaced with other people.

By the way, it is kind of interesting what drives someone to steal someones gmail account and than use it as his own - unless it's name was in some way unique and desired

It is, to own something like a 3 - 4 letters long username or email address is worth more to some people.

Especially distinguishable words, and especially names.

Domains are a great example of this, too. I recently reached out, out of curiosity, and learned that the owner of the .net domain for my own four-letter name wants a quarter of a million dollars for it.

A shame, really. They're not doing anything with it, best I can tell. But if that's what someone would pay for it... You can bet someone would try to steal it.

How do you get Gmail username with 5 characters or less?

You have to hack an existing one and make it your own, apparently. :-)

Too late by now I think.

I got my Gmail account in late 2004 and there was a lower limit on username length then.

yep, i distinctly remember wanting just my first name and it not allowing it. i have one of the first 500~ accounts, and it wasn't taken

At Google, the "user" and the "customer" are not the same entity.

That causes a problem of incentives.

But you should take good care of your cattle otherwise you have nothing to sell to your customers.

Google and other companies don't want customers.

> Google and other companies don't want customers.

What do they want, by your reckoning?

your data please <insert user disabled but already checked check-box here> :)

That doesn't make any sense. They're not some supervillian who wants your data just to have it; they want to sell it (or products derived from it) to their real customers, which are big ad-buyers.

Google and Facebook want customers, ad-buying customers.

Indeed. And if you had an ad to market you want it targeted. Targeting can only occur if there is data.

Google has customers and users. One gets support, the other doesn't.

Just in case anyone was curious, no nothing has been resolved, just the same runaround despite the info I have to provide. Also, if anyone is curious here is a link to the google group discussion: https://productforums.google.com/forum/?utm_medium=email&utm...

Companies are never the good guys. If I recall correctly Google never actually cared about customer service. They expected your questions to be resolved automatically by their software. If you aren't a paying customer to a service related to Google Ads you basically get shafted.

Worked there.. I cared. I responded on forums, dealt with customers large and small, bot direct and as a point of engineering contact.

Here is the problem with a company like Google: SPAM. Want to support the regular user? You are going to get people bitching that they can't find the "save" button and they are afraid of losing documents. You will get people asking you where their Nigerian prince went. You will have people who don't own a computer but need access to gmail. etc. Controlling the ways that support enters the system controls the amount of pure bullshit support requests you have to filter.

My favorites from the people that made far enough to find a way to contact us directly:

* A 30 minute long voicemail from a person talking about how he invented a system to produce energy from.. something.. we never did figure out what the model was.

* A person asking YouTube to send over camera to record some event they were having.

* A scammer who was annoyed that their scam emails were being filtered, who spent a lot of effort trying to convince US that they really were an estate lawyer in a country that didn't exist.

* Somebody telling us that they lost access to an email that didn't exist (and had never existed) and kept slipping up what their name really was.

* Piles, and piles of people trying to sell us stuff we didn't need or want.

Just make all calls to support paid per minute - it shortens the calls and removes the nutters. Adjust the price dynamically to meet demand.

Spammers would sign up for enterprise accounts, drop a couple hundred or more to get priority access, then spam the ever living hell out of the internet because they knew that we couldn't just disable the accounts outright. In the time it took to get the account shut down they more than made their money back. Eventually it would turn out that the card was stolen so the money would get reversed.

Dealing with credit cards is a nightmare, especially in support situations. What happens if the problem is totally on the users end? (Hi, I can't log into my gmail account, its bob@yahoo.com) Do you refund them since you can't fix the issue? If not they are going to be pissed. What if the problem is quite a lot complicated and requires several hours to fix? In the enterprise space we _constantly_ had to explain to mail carriers that the Cisco PIX device was mangling their SMTP EHLO line in a way that would break the SMTP protocol which is why mail was not going through. If an end user calls it can take hours to debug something like that. Will the user demand a refund when $200 later its ruled to be their shitty ISP's fault?

Their customers aren't really the end-user, but advertisers. They just want to appear to be the good guys.

Perhaps they should offer a paid customer support service just so that they're finally incentivized to help the end-user.

Google has 2bn users. How on earth would they provide support for that? I feel your pain but we have to be realistic. If support is of essence you don't sign in free services.

Paid support tbh. It can create perverse incentives, but having an option is better than no option.

> They were the good guys.

Villains who twirl their moustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged.

I like that. Very thought provoking. Thank you.

This is exactly why I'm teaching myself skills in it and computing.

I cannot rely on Google.

do no evil?

I think I'm personally glad about this verdict, but it worries me nonetheless, because it justifies thinking like this:

    "For the Raffs, this remains the burning issue, which 
    the technicalities of auctions and algorithms all too 
    often obscure. They see it simply: Google, or any other 
    search engine, should present only impartial results 
    that do not benefit it financially. It sounds 
    idealistic, but why should it? “After all,” says 
    Shivaun, “this is what people want, and what they 
    believe Google still delivers.”
Maybe Google should act that way, and certainly the Raffs are right that people want that --- but is it something that should be enforced legally? I could see saying that Google has too many opportunities to benefit anti-competitively from its search dominance, and that it should be split up to prevent that, but not that it should be forced to supply results in the way "people want", counter to its financial interests.

> forced to supply results in the way "people want", counter to its financial interests.

I get my water from a private company. Should they be forced to supply me with clean drinking water, counter to it's financial interests? Presumably it would be cheaper to just pump it out of the river into our homes?

And that is the problem, Google has risen to utility level dominance, and utility level importance. Millions of peoples jobs rely on search and search results, time for regulation.

Water companies are usually granted a legal monopoly to serve an area because it would be a logistical nightmare to have a bunch of companies all trying to install and service their own pipes. In exchange, they're required to serve everyone in the area and to charge regulated rates.

If another water company wanted to come in and install pipes to your house, they would be prohibited from doing so.

Other search engines aren't prohibited from competing with Google -- in fact many countries actively encourage and fund local competitors -- so I don't see how this analogy makes sense.

Some monopolies are granted, some occur naturally. Example of the likes of Microsoft Bing shows that Google monopoly is even stronger than if it was written into law.

Maybe monopolies should have their products strictly regulated regardless of how they came to be monopolies?

Other way to deal with monopolies is just force them to split up into few companies, but I don't think that users would benefit much from having 10 different search engines to choose from same way they don't need their browser to have 10 different homepages. They need just one, but the one that provides results that they need. Same way like they need one water provider that provides the water of quality that they need.

If you allow Google just to show results from whoever pays the most, that only shows that they are sitting on the bridge and let pass through only the ones that pay the most, no matter how much value their passing brings to everybody else. At some point nobody cares if they built this bridge or not. Their bridge stands on and occupies optimal spot for a bridge so people on both sides of the bridge should and have every right to fight for such agreement that benefits them most, not just the bridge owner/constructor.

It wouldn't even be in the utility suppliers long term interest.

What are you going to do, switch to another water utility?

They could just wait to clean up their act once they see competition on the horizon (or just go through the motions), which would more than likely scare that competition off. Building a water utility isn't cheap and I doubt there would be enough profit in a competitive environment to justify the cost.

I mean, taken ad absurdum, they don't want to kill their customer base.

Is it fair to call a utility what you pay nothing for?

Yes. Google, as literally the main portal to all online information for nearly everyone who isn't in China, has a moral obligation to do a good, impartial job. If it wants to fail at that in order to serve its financial interests, then it ought to be quickly broken up into a million pieces.

Except the switching cost is essentially 0: just type Bing or Yahoo into the address bar

Switching cost for the searcher, not the websites. They have zero recourse.

I'm not sure what you mean...put googlebot in your robots.txt then?

Except if you don't exist on Google you don't exist at all for ~75% of searchers. That's what I'm thinking the person was saying.


That is easy to answer: when and if Google puts a big ADVERTISMENT label on top of all of their search results, then they can do whatever they like. Otherwise, consumers should be protected against fraud. And pretending that you show what is most relevant while you indeed show what pays best, is IMHO fraud.

that quote is insane. i guess its probably a little out of context and is meant only to be referring to 'product links'. but i'm not sure how any sane legal rule is going to differentiate between different types of ad links on the search page.

ultimately google has to make money. if they purely only showed search results and no placed links then their only way of making money would be from the flow of data. i'm not sure if you could run a search engine off of that. it is also basically saying you can only run a search engine if you either are running an ad platform for third party sites that exploits the data you collect from your search engine or you are selling data to a third party ad platform.

All systems have failure modes; so, use multiple systems to do things that are important.

Ever heard the term "public interest" and "tragedy of the commons". You are implying it would be best if everyone built their own search engine because one can't and shouldn't trust anyone except to backstab when one isn't looking. Well, that is how society works indeed, but there are enough eyeballs and by your logic it is completely acceptable to stab google in the back.

PS: of course it's doubtful if there are enough eyeballs because most people are technically incompetent, me included.

i mean, taken ad absurdum, they don't want to kill their customer base.

oops, wrong thread but too late to delete.

"and what they believe Google still delivers." - I think this is huge issue, and one that is going to take a lot of re-educating people. I constantly tell people DO NOT TRUST THE FIRST RESULTS IN GOOGLE - it's often a paid ad for malware for example with some searches.

But people use google to get to facebook, and walmart, and so many other frequent places that it's in their mind that is how the computer / internet works. Open browser, google place, click first result.

Even after explaining to doctors how adwords works and showing them ad placement, it still did not sink in that if they, their staff, or friends and family clicked on their shiny new #1 result for blah blah, it was going to cost them $10 each time.

The way google works is hidden, it's deceptive on purpose in many ways (ads are not clearly marked as such with their slightly different white background) - especially on smaller devices like 14" laptops.

People assume and trust with google, and it's misplaced - but educating them, and getting a different default on their devices is not easy, and they buy out defaults from places when it's not set that way.

Having no way to contact people via phone with this google and facebook is a real issue. The stores down the street could not get away with some of the stuff these companies do, and there is no way to hold anyone accountable or talk to someone about it.

By the time facebook changes this I don't think they will matter anymore.

Eventually people will realize that google is useful like the yellow pages, and only to be trusted as such. Pay to play gets the big placement, and don't expect to find everything you may want there.

Even though the case raises a good point about googles power the problem is foundem was a very low quality ecommerce intermediary that objectively added no value to the searcher.

Foundem also was set up by people with very rich friends in British society :-)

After looking at Foundem I can see why this should not be displayed to searchers. I feel like I'm back in the early days of the web!

And only the rich get richer in these cases. ;)

Before Google cracked down, there were a whole bunch of low-quality "vertical search" and "price comparison" sites that rendered Google basically unusable for certain kinds of searches by spamming the results with page after page of highly SEO optimized information-free placeholders stuffed with ads. Their business model was basically to make money by making everyone's search experiences worse, hoping enough people would get desperate enough to click on one of the ads in a futile attempt to get what they were looking for. That's why Google's crackdown hurt so many vertical search/price comparison sites so much; they had no organic non-Google-sourced traffic because no-one wanted to go back there.

it may be a bit unfair to judge them by looking at today's website, which is not in service anymore, even if they have a home page.

"Today, Foundem’s website is the digital equivalent of a boarded-up house"

Their business is dead, because they were artificially demoted to 4th page in search when Google Product Search was created.

Yes but its a poor quality comparison site that added no value I know sites also hit by penguin that where far more worthy.

Kellys Directory for example which had its roots in a company founded in the 1700's

It was always just a basic price comparison site though.

http://www.foundem.co.uk/ is so fast. It's lightyears faster than any other ecommerce site I've used.

Even though the content itself seems non-existent now, I would have used an ecommerce/comparison site which is that fast despite lacking on the quality side.

Google's ranking algorithms are notoriously secretive due to attempts to resist SEO spamming, but the flipside is that pages can just disappear from its (publicly available) index despite still containing content relevant to your search:


Google should be split up. It's wrong to have a company that controls search, one of the major browsers, and one of the two major operating systems for phones.

And then of course it should be made to pay tax where the search results are shown. An ad shown in the EU should be taxed with an indirect EU tax on the ad (30 percent of what is paid for the ad plus an EU VAT). That would once for all make the large advertising companies such as Facebook and Google pay tax in Europe. Every ad should include an ID number with information on the money paid on the ad, who paid it and to whom. Then, consumers and EU tax authorities could easily check if tax had been paid on the ad and who paid what for the ad.

Taxation philosophy aside, I really like the idea of traceable ads in general. There are so many intentionally tangled and obscured intermediate steps between the ad buyer and the ad viewer, a transparent record would benefit the honest parties and the consumer. Prosecuting, or at least deterring, malware served over sketchy ad networks comes immediately to mind.

Is there ever a case where untraceability is a good thing?

And runs the largest advertising network on the planet as well as the major email service provider.

> Google should be split up.

Agreed. One question, though: I somewhat trust Google's security, but is our data still safe after such a split-up?

I also have a fun one:


It's hilarious because it's now gotten to the point where the only non-noise results are the ones where I'm describing how the query in question is broken.

In fact, the top result I'm seeing here is a perfectly-paraphrased oneliner - Google is describing its own brokenness! :D

(I must admit, I'm impressed to see such a perfect summary of the situation presented in a single paragraph like that. Google picked exactly the right portion of the sentence. I take it there's really nothing out there in open-source land that does anything like that, is there? :( )

I think they just picked the sentences that contained the keywords, and concatenated them together (if necessary because the sentences are in two different locations). The sentences themselves can be found using basic word searches once the content is parsed/indexed (obviously, the Google indexing/searching is more complicated than that).

Both of my company's database engine products offer this type of functionality, as do many database engines/servers out there. It's typically referred to as full-text indexing or full-text searching:


and there are lots of ways to control how/why certain words are indexed/search (stop words, synonyms, stemming, etc.). With the right amount of customization, you can get pretty close to ideal search results.

> Google's ranking algorithms are notoriously secretive due to attempts to resist SEO spamming

Why can't they approach it like software security? E.g. Linux's source code is open, and this is considered a good thing regarding security.

The kind of security Linux does is binary and has correct answers: should this user be logged in? Can this user write this file? Should this [more complicated access using SELinux] be allowed?

Search rankings are relative to each other and do not have objectively correct answers. Furthermore, I think the methods people have discovered so far to produce search results users are happy with are all gameable to some degree, so the only option available at this point is a degree of security through obscurity and an ever-evolving arms race between Google and spammers.

But in this case it was lack of original content, which is, pretty much, not a secret.

And Google shopping is full of original content?

Search results were littered with garbage comparison sites when this began though. My comment was more a response to the search ranking point rather than the merits of google shopping, which I'm no great fan of btw.

This sentence jumped out at me: "The idea came to Adam one day as he smoked a Silk Cut outside his office"

Is this how advertisers are getting around ad blockers these days? Or just writing style...

Or the journalist is like Bukowski and feels the need to describe all the cigarette brands used by the characters.

BBC wouldn't get away with that, I tell you hwhat.

God I love the EU

it's easy to punish a foreign company, the litmus test should be how it deals with a domestic company behaving badly, e.g. VW

it's not looking good thus far

The VW case is complicated further because the German government has a pretty big stake in them.

Like all governments, when it wields its power for good, it can be an unstoppable force.

Like all governments, it can be prone to corruption and doing the wrong thing.

In a world of giant multinational superpowers, a giant government is the only hope for "the small guy" to get even. It might not happen all the time, but without these structures, it would never happen at all.

It’s structure seems to make it particularly resistant to bribery — commissioners tend to be popular but no-longer-elected politicians

It is the popular politicians who are corrupt. The unpopular ones do not get elected.

Some unpopular politicians are also corrupt though?

> When Adam and Shivaun Raff's company was destroyed by Google, they didn't get mad, they got even.

They destroyed Google?

Well, I read "get even" in this case meaning that they recouped the financial losses that Google's actions cost their business (plus legal costs on top of that). In effect, they evened out their losses. Perhaps.

Unfortunately not; not yet at least. In the article it mentions that their civil case against Google is dependent on this verdict, and due to Google's pending appeal may not be resolved for several years.

Hmm interesting, I know that am going to get downvoted but what I want to find out is how much it cost them and if going against someone on a European court level can be achieved by someone without money.

What I mean is that those 2 people going against Google and winning, must have cost so much money to achieve, that I don't believe its possible for someone with a tiny business or someone with no money to do so.

I am intrigued to learn if justice is a privilege of the few, or everyone can have justice.

In my specific case, I had my government which is within the European Union, straight out stealing land from my family. We went to the country's court, we went to a 2nd court and then a final 3rd. The justice system within my country failed us so we looked at how we could engage in a higher level e.g EU court. The fees for that were so great and the process seemed so unwelcome that we can just not afford to receive justice. So thats why am asking, I'd prefer to see an article that speak actual numbers and how much money foundem needed to provide to lawyers etc and how didn't they go bankrupt at the same time.

From reading the article, this was not the of case working their way through the courts, which would indeed be very expensive, but via the Competition Commission, that would then be responsible for the costs of the investigation (if they were interested in investigating, which, according to the article, they were).

So I would think the biggest cost would be time and energy and that is enough to put the majority of people off. (One of the first things I heard from a lecturer as part of my law degree was: never, under any circumstances, go to court, unless you really, really have to, as it is not worth your time and energy.)


What a load of crap.

The EU anti-cartel unit regularly takes on big EU multi-nationals.

This is as silly as saying that the United States only acted against Volkswagen in the diesel scandal because they were not American.

It's not difficult for this American to imagine e.g. GM being treated quite differently had they committed the same offense. Granted, eventually they would have to stop cheating on emissions tests, but the narrative could have been completely different: "Due to its commitment to its customers and to the environment, GM is working closely with regulators to improve its emissions testing compliance, in light of new regulatory interpretations..."

> The EU commission just took it all for themselves

I've seen the EU in a club in Brussels blowing all the money that they took from Google and the British couple on booze and women.

Joking aside, I'm fascinated by the narrative by HN user on the EU.

It is true that there is reluctance to put pressure on your own industry. So we see that Microsoft, Google, etc. receive more pressure in EU, while Volkswagen receives more pressure in US.

However, the article points out perfectly well how Google uses their de-facto monopoly on Web search to stifle competition in other areas (such as specialized search services).

The couple can sue Google for damages as soon as its violation of anti-monopoly regulations has been established. They just need to wait until Googles appeal against the decision is rejected (which it most certainly will).

Is "I know that I'm going to get downvoted" the new opening argument? Forestalling criticism does usually work in discussions, but it should not be necessary here. If you get downvoted, so be it. You are not your HN karma. (I know I'm gonna be downvoted for this ;) )

>...it should not be necessary here

I think it's a lame figure of speech that's only used to paint yourself as some kind of underdog hero.

The top comment (!) in the "AMP for email is a terrible idea"-thread [0] is a post starting with this exact phrase. Obviously your idea wasn't so controversial after all, so just let the users decide the up-/down-votes.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16372234

In such cases, I like to assist in making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. I understand a degree of criticism forestalling, but when I read it, it distracts from the commenter’s point.

Is fear of being downvoted a new kind of self-censorship?

It's not new. The whole point of a downvoting facility is to encourage site users to conform their posts to what other users want to read. It isn't 100% effective, since users may decide that they'd rather post what they want, downvotes be damned. It probably isn't meant to be 100% effective. Users who do this all the time will get banned, but more occasional anti-censorship posters will broaden the scope of acceptable discourse, often in beneficial directions.

I immediately stop reading the comment and downvote whenever I see that phrase.

It's againt HN guidelines, but most people here don't care.

This is certainly a proper question to ask! Semi related but, I have some experience getting funding from the EU for innovative projects, the cost of work needed to acquire this funding was nearly to the point where it wasn't worth it for any small companies to even attempt. So I can understand that this level of justice is only to be achieved by the wealthy and resourceful parties.

Process before the european court of human rights is free of charge, but requires a lawyer (you really might want one). There is however also the european court of justice; again, not to be confused with the europea justice court.



has your family received "compensation"?

IANAL, in fact I lost a case before the local court just trying to receive support for legal aid, but at least I could object to paying the opponent lawyer an illusory sum.

> There is however also the european court of justice; again, not to be confused with the europea[n] justice court.

I really hope those names are more distinct in French or German something. Otherwise, they really need to work to make them less confusing.

Were the fees mostly made up of the lawyers fees? It would be possible to do it without the lawyers, but it's a long shot, or better would be to find people with a similar case to band together to take on such a case. It's usually because of a conflict between the EU regs and the implementation of said regs in the member state, this could be a conflict that also exists in other member states so it may be possible to find a group of interested parties from various parts of the EU.

I always thought the foundem case was backed by Microsoft? Maybe I'm mis-remembering but I'm sure I read that somewhere?

in the article maybe?

"By now the couple had been joined by numerous other complainants, including Expedia, TripAdvisor and Microsoft"


It's also even in the second paragraph: 'being the first plaintiff, the others being Yelp, etc...'

The article's title is extreme clickbait. This couple didn't "take on" Google, or even this case. A European commission took on the case, representing the interests of many corporations.

Which country is that? Do you have a ballpark on the cost, in your case? Genuinely curious.

Google also lost a similar action in Italy. Interesting how the punishment is always a fine paid to the government.

But the real problem is -- Google has to be broken up. Criminals that get slaps just figure it in to the cost of business. It's meaningless. Ad prices just went up a little, that's all.

> From their tidy, white-brick home in the suburban village of Crowthorne, Berkshire, the Raffs pursued the most valuable company in the world all the way to Brussels and the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, DC – and won.

Since when was Google the most valuable company in the world?

Honest question: so if I want to start a niche/vertical search engine, is it safe to say that I'm "safe" now? As in: I don't need to worry I'd be demoted by Google due to unoriginal content (=extracted from original ecommerce)?

3 items worth mentioning that are relevant to this case:

1) Google is in the process of appealing this decision and could very well end up winning (or having the fine significantly reduced) in the end.

2) At least to some degree, decisions like this are likely protectionism aimed at US companies.

    "[Americans] have owned the Internet. Our companies have created it, 
    expanded it, perfected it in ways that [European companies] can’t 
    compete," Obama said in an interview with Recode in 2015. "And 
    oftentimes what is portrayed as high-minded positions on issues 
    sometimes is just designed to carve out some of their commercial 
3) When people talk about how free speech has greater protections in the US than in the EU, this is one of the things they are talking about.

Do Americans have 3rd party product comparison websites, or do they just order everything from amazon and are happy about it?

I wonder why regulators doesn't pay Google when companies make a profit from being indexed by Google, and only fines Google when companies lose profit from being deindex.

Thank you 'British couple'! If I had it my way, Google would be split up (or banned as in China).

At this point in time, I am honestly surprised at the lack of balance in this conversation. While I'm writing this, the entire discussion is a bunch of pile-on for Google without any consideration of the actual facts in this case.

Today is a sad day for the internet.

In phone book terms, the business model of this couple was roughly equivalent to plastering stickers with their phone number over all the other entries in the phone book. Any end user wishing to get the information they wanted had to go through an unnecessary step. Any destination, had to fight to prevent their content from being overrun.

I am both a European and an American, and the fact of the matter is that the European Commission is attempting to stifle American business. This ruling does not protect users, and does not protect valid businesses, it protects spammers.

Instead of trying to legislate our way into competitiveness, I would like to see our countries focus on actually attempting to stimulate tech businesses, because attempts like these just hurt technology companies overall. Sure, it hurts American companies more than Europeans, but they're also in a better position to shoulder the burden. This makes it tougher for smaller European tech shops.

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