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[dupe] The Case Against Google (2018) (nytimes.com)
76 points by dotcoma 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 42 comments

"Left unsaid was that Google itself generates millions of new subpages without inbound links each day, a fresh page each time someone performs a search. And each of those subpages is filled with text copied from other sites"

Absurd. The article is complaining that Google SERP doesn't penalize Google SERP results. Google doesn't index its own search result pages.

I think your comment should have a disclaimer that you work for Google. But, to address what you said, the point being made is that if someone say made a clone of Google, that had better search results than Google, that Google would penalize the website, as Google penalizes websites that resemble itself. This seems inherently anti-competitive, no? Consumers would be overjoyed to find that a new website existed out there that gave better results than Google for anything they might be looking for, yet they would never find out about the existence of such a website, as Google would suppress it in its results. This may be purely innocent intention—based in an understanding that users want results immediately instead of entering another engine or aggregator, but it's not completely apparent that is indeed the case.

I was completely neutral (or as neutral as one can be, foremost concerned with ascertaining truth) at the end of the last sentence, so I decided to investigate a little myself. The results seem to me like Google isn't doing anything obviously of egregiously wrong from a first pass, though obviously I don't have the benefit of the 1.7b queries the EU had in their investigation.

I searched, "price comparison website" and was presented first with this link: https://www.shopify.com/blog/7068398-10-best-comparison-shop...

I then searched for the name of each of the companies I didn't recognize. As I actually searched for Pronto first, I thought this verified Foundem's claims, but I think that Pronto didn't come up as it's a Brazilian site, as then when I searched for all the other sites they came up as the first result, except Become, which was on the first page but further down (presumably because it's such a common word).

Nextag (dead) [1]

PriceGrabber (first link on SERP)

Shopzilla (first link on SERP)

Become (bottom of first page)

Pronto (not on the first ten pages)

Bizrate (first result on SERP)

So, you can clearly find these websites if you're looking for them. For Google to not directly link aggregate pages instead of direct results could very well be in the best interest of users... but the point at the end of the article stands that the sterility created in the overall tech ecosystem by such dominance may be harming consumers overall in the long term. It's unclear to what degree that's the case, though, if it is ultimately true.

[1] WSJ piece from Nextag CEO 2012 https://outline.com/n8rW7a They shutdown last year.

Even if the issue were valid, the analogy itself is absurd. He could have said that Google Search surfaces links from Maps, YouTube, Groups, etc and doesn't penalize them using identical criteria (I don't know if it does or not). But saying Search doesn't penalize Google Search leads to infinite regress, or contradiction: If SERP generates a Link to a Next 10 results page, it must then derank the next page and filter it, but then since it wouldn't generate an internal link, it should rank in the results and be granted pagination. It's like Godelian Incompleteness Statement for Search.

More then that, the entire argument relies on a technicality: Links as UI buttons. Pagination uses links for UI interaction, but after Web 2.0 arrived, it doesn't have to. Infinite scrollers, pure JS pagination + XHR that doesn't generate links could be used.

(yes, I am a Googler, I am most definitely not trying to hide it, it's in my HN profile, I just got tired of constantly typing it, but if you search back far enough before 2010 when I joined, you'll find my opinion on these matters has not changed. I'm a copyright minimalist, I favor decentralized, mostly unregulated web, where everyone can scrape everything, remix, reuse, and repurpose data for permissionless innovation, and I do not favor the government getting involved so it can artificially create categories like 'vertical search' or decide what search algorithms should do)

I'd say in general that there is no need to list your employer in your comments or to have it in you profile, but if a comment branch specifically is about that employer then there should be a disclosure in your highest comment on that branch.

> yes, I am a Googler, I am most definitely not trying to hide it, it's in my HN profile, I just got tired of constantly typing it

While I don't personally care too much, I suppose it could be problematic if you remove this information from your profile at a later date, and from that point on people reading your comments wouldn't (easily) be able to know that you work at Google.

Google is a big company, and most of us working for them are mainly in it for the paycheck.

Knowing that I work for Google doesn't, by itself, tell you very much about my opinions. It indicates I'm not strongly anti-Google, I guess.

> It indicates I'm not strongly anti-Google, I guess.

Or maybe you’re so strongly anti-Google that you realize the only way to take them down is from the inside.

And now you know too much.

Out of curiosity, how do you square your belief in a decentralized web with working for a company that has plagued us with "innovations" like amp?

> But, to address what you said, the point being made is that if someone say made a clone of Google, that had better search results than Google, that Google would penalize the website, as Google penalizes websites that resemble itself. This seems inherently anti-competitive, no?

> So, you can clearly find these websites if you're looking for them. For Google to not directly link aggregate pages instead of direct results could very well be in the best interest of users... but the point at the end of the article stands that the sterility created in the overall tech ecosystem by such dominance may be harming consumers overall in the long term.

I remember when google searches would often return results that are searches in other websites, and hated this. It was so annoying. It hasn't happened in a long time, I hadn't noticed until thinking about this in hindsight. I guess this is why?

Regardless of the validity of the point, it was an obvious direct improvement in the quality of google. It was blindingly obvious that every example I saw of this (including the one at the center of the EU case) were bullshit SEO games, not actual google competitors that deserved to appear in search results.

It shouldn't be held against any company to improve their product. It is in direct opposition of what my understanding is the basis of US antitrust law (that there is some consumer harm being done).

The pages for the search results are dynamic, based on external data.

Is the idea here that, for each point in time, a static concrete, crawlable permalink is generated, with a version of the page at that point in time for a particular query?

Seems like it’d be this huge spool of link rot. The common standard for dynamic content is to flag a URI path in robots.txt as non-static content, based on live data. This is near-universal behavior for anything generated on the fly, without the intent of external linking.

Since search results are sometimes related to availability of external content, like whether the server providing the content at the search result is down or not, the quality of snapshots for concrete results would become a curiousity over time.

It would be interesting to see such an experiment, but the resources needed to host such a curiosity, catering to spell check searches, spammy requests, bot requests and so on would be suicidally prohibitive.

I think you’d need a dyson sphere to power a server attempting to host a combinatorial explosion like that. All anyone needs to do is start querying the digits of pi, to produce a spacefilling spider trap.

> But, to address what you said, the point being made is that if someone say made a clone of Google, that had better search results than Google, that Google would penalize the website, as Google penalizes websites that resemble itself. This seems inherently anti-competitive, no?

If you search for a particular model of digital camera, you're looking for the product page for that camera or reviews of it etc., not a list of search results pages in a hundred other search engines that each contain largely the same results. Especially if they were all to do the same thing so that the only response to any search query is links to that query in dozens of other search engines that all only produce links to the same query in all the other search engines.

The thing that should produce results for other search engines or reviews/lists of them isn't a search for a product, it's a search for "search engine" or "product search engine" etc. -- but that is what you get when you do a Google search for that.

A search should never link to another search engine's SERP, because if you actually wanted that the obvious way to do it is to search Google for other search engines and then type your query into the other search engine.

Searching for "<thing> search engine" produces results for "<thing> search engine" and searching for "<thing>" produces results for "<thing>". Because if searching for "<thing>" produced results for "<thing> search engine" then how do you just search for "<thing>"? And if the user wants the "<thing> search engine" results, why can't they just search for "<thing> search engine"?


This is a long article but I believe it is worth a read to the end: in short, don't dismiss this as yet another "top N evil things that Google has done" article. It is a narrative about anti-trust regulation that happens to pick on Google. In fact, given the paragraphs at the end, I wouldn't even classify this as anti-Google.

The paragraphs detailing the fears of Microsoft in 2000 when they were under public scrutiny were especially insightful - they touch upon aspects that the Wikipedia summary of the Microsoft anti-trust cases [1] do not really highlight.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Microsoft_Cor....

What is it with all this tech bashing lately? Certainly they aren't perfect, but silicon valley is far down on my list on things we need to fix. What about ISP monopolies that have required massive amounts of regulation just to let small ISPs ask for a bit of dark fiber? What about the gambling house that is wall street? Or our crumbling rail infrastructure? What about our exceedingly ineffective health care system full of insurance middle men and price gouging?

The difference between Google and those other issues, is that Google actually has a mission, and they use their money to generally do good things. In fact, I'd say it's a small miracle that Google isn't 10x evil. If Google was as evil as the big TelCos or some of the other scummy businesses out there, we would absolutely be having a bad day.

Part of that is google's culture. Not every company can afford to hire the best, and put them in an environment where work is fun and people feel compelled to do good. Break up Google and you get 1000x more companies all gathering the same data, except each one of them is staffed by idiots that leak data every day. Google is working as hard as possible and it's still a challenge to keep nation state attackers at bay with unlimited sums of money.

Let's get real here. The journalists are mad because they work for tech illiterate companies who gave in to shilling fear stories in the 90s. Now they have the jester-as-king calling them out as fake news, and the irony is that it's true. Maybe 5-10% of each story as some nugget of truth to it. The politicians of course have to lap those stories up so they can virtue signal to their ignorant constituents who barely understand tech any better than the politicians too.

Most of the other problems you mentioned are American problems. There are quite a few people who actually do not live in America and care fairly little about America's "crumbling rail infrastructure".

Tech monopolies are a potentially global problem.

When Google is the world's portal to the internet, and they use that position to prevent competition, there are potentially huge consequences for all global citizens. China notwithstanding.

It will be your problems when countries start removing themselves from the free and open internet, and your left with isolated bubbles that further radicalize people. These problems can be solved by making world wide platforms better so people can become educated, or we can break it up so people can have no communicate outside their country or ideology. America is also a lynch pin of defense for Europe, it spends astronomically large amounts of money on defense so other countries don't have to, so hopefully you recognize that if things go wrong here it will definitely impact the rest of the world's ability to defend themselves.

I think we're talking past each other here. How would forcing Facebook to split off Instagram and WhatsApp (for example) cause a worsening of ideological bubbles?

If you use basic encryption your ISP can't know much about you. But you can't lie to Google. Search "red spot in my groin" + tracking on Android/Maps -> Google knows you have a venereal disease and likely from who.

Not even Facebook knows you this well. On social media you present a highlight reel and hide your ugly side.

You can't lie to your search engine and Google tracks you even when you don't think it's doing so. Google gives hundreds of variables about a user on real-time bidding. That's you.

Absolutely false. DNS is still a huge leak of privacy, and it’s trivially easy for an ISP to rate limit traffic going to major content providers they directly peer with, which is most of their traffic.

Google Analytics also pierces the encryption that hides much of your activity on the modern web from your ISP.

Google and Facebook at the root of a huge percentage of our other social problems. They are inherently harmful, and regulating big tech will be my primary voting issue in the 2020 election.

Bear in mind our many of our issues with election tampering, disinformation, and radicalization, can all be traced to online platforms. Facebook was essentially at fault for a genocide. Google has set a new high bar for corporate lobbying and revolving door practices with our government. Both companies bleed our journalism industry further and further dry every day.

Big tech should be the highest concern on your list, and you shouldn't buy the PR campaigns about how they are good for the world.

The issue is the people spreading information and the people believing it. , When the news, who have lost all credibility, hyper exaggerate every story, it's no wonder the amount of FUD and lies people are willing to believe on the internet. It's also a problem of education, people no longer believe in science, and accept any notion that fits into their belief system as fact. The real PR campaign here is the media and politicians using big tech as a virtue signaling platform to free up the market for the fake news organizations to become profitable again so they can spoon feed stories to the masses.

The downside of "Google" becoming synonymous with "Internet search" is that normal people don't understand that Google is a search engine and that it's possible to use the Internet without Google. You don't need Google to search the web or visit websites, Google is optional. Alternative search engines are garbage, but it was like that back before Google.

> "Alternative search engines are garbage,"

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like that gap has been narrowing rapidly. Partially because other search engines are getting better, but also because google has been getting worse.

"If you're old enough to remember the internet before 1998, when Google was founded, you'll recall what it was like when searching online involved AltaVista or Lycos and consistently delivered a healthy dose of spam or porn."

The main things I remember were that AltaVista showed ads along with its results, while Google was, ironically, ad-free. And Google was also much, much faster.

"Each time someone used Foundem to buy something, the Raffs would receive a small payment from the website making the sale.."

Maybe people actually prefer Google because for a lot of the results you get, nobody is paying?

The scrutiny of Google is warranted, but misdirected. Remember that advertisers are are Google's customers, not individual search users. If drawing an analogy between Standard Oil and Google, the question to answer is: are advertisers being harmed as a result of a Google-Facebook duopoly? I don't have the expertise to investigate this question, but I'd love to hear from someone who does.

(disclaimer: ex-googler)

If we shouldn't get consideration in antitrust discussions because we're the not the customer, we're the product being sold, perhaps adtech needs regulations akin to animal cruelty laws. It's okay to slaughter us, you just can't be unnecessarily cruel while doing so...

Not a great analogy -- animal cruelty laws are far too lenient. For example, they exempt farm animals. In fact, there are laws against things that would reveal abuse of such animals - https://www.aspca.org/animal-protection/public-policy/what-a...

The case against Google is surely that it tracks and records online behaviour on an industrial scale that has no equal among technology companies. Yet, of all the many large technology companies, it mostly escapes scrutiny. Thousands of people in the tech field happily rush to it's defence. Does a giant multi-billion company with an army of lawyers need your defence? Google probably knows more about you that you know about yourself.

The tracking begins at a young age - with kids who uses ChromeOS in school (pity the poor kids who don't even get the choice of whether they get tracked, the adults decide for them). Google doesn't build marketing profiles of students, but they are still recording the online behaviour of students. Even if that data is detached from individual accounts and then aggregated it still amounts to data from millions of students. Horrible.

So normalised has online tracking become, no-one even bothers to ask why we should be tracked to this degree in the first place. Generic catch-all phrases like "to improve our services" are meaningless without specifics.

The case against Google is arguably also a case against the tech field that seems complicit in supporting such unprecedented online tracking. When it comes to privacy and online tracking, this industry is rife with hypocrisy.

Facebook is surely at least an equal to Google in the tracking department, no?

Google is also part of the student privacy pledge: https://studentprivacypledge.org/privacy-pledge/, which seems like a reasonable document.

Edit: should have said earlier, I worked at Google many years ago.

Regarding the student privacy pledge:

1 - Has Google always adhered to it since it was written? Have they ever violated it? If they have, in which way, in regards to whom and by whom? How would I get access to this information? Are independent, respected consumer-protection watchdogs auditing Google to make sure they're adhering to their own policy? The same questions apply to all of the companies Google shares this data with.

2 - What measures has Google taken to combat de-anonymization ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De-anonymization ) of their data?

3 - Google can change their privacy policies at any time, and all this pledge requires is that they provide notice and unspecified "choices" to account holders. Nothing prevents those choices from being effectively meaningless or powerless against future data sharing or use.

4 - Even if Google adheres 100% to the letter and spirit of their student privacy pledge, the data they collect could still be leaked or stolen, in which case the students are screwed. The only real way to prevent that is not to collect data in the first place.

Your points 3 and 4 suggest that no answer to points 1 and 2 would satisfy. To me, that's a problem-- it means that no action they take or promise they make can satisfy, because promises can be broken and actions undone and you don't trust them not to. As a result, it is illogical of Google to address any concern you raise. I think that's a loss.

>Facebook is surely at least an equal to Google in the tracking department, no?

Not even close, maybe 50% of the capability. Why? Because no one in my family has Facebook, but everyone has/uses Google either our phones, or Chromebooks (from school for our kids) all the google accounts that are _required_ to hand in homework.

Facebook isn't even a blip on the radar by comparison.

Not having a Facebook account doesn't put you totally outside of Facebook's sphere of knowledge. If any of your friends has allowed Facebook to vacuum up their contacts list, Facebook knows you exist and have a shadow profile for you. Piece by piece, they can compile a substantial amount of information about you even though you've never signed up.

However I agree with your basic premise, that Google is an even worse threat. From using uMatrix and paying attention to what 3rd party shit websites pull in, it seems like Google's surveillance net is far wider than Facebook's. If you consider the possibility of AWS being used by Amazon for surveillance, then Amazon seems to have more reach than Facebook too. But all of them plainly have more reach than anybody should be comfortable with.

I use a standard set of privacy tools, so Facebook is almost universally blocked from my life. Their shadow profile is probably pretty thin, but I agree they are still a threat. But no-where near as bad as Google.

I hadn't considered Amazon. Maybe we should add Cloudflare to the mix now as well? (in the same vein of thought)

Hmm. I didn't understand you to be speaking specifically about your family above; in fact, if you read it again I'm sure you can understand how it came across as a sweeping generalization that simply isn't true for the 2.3B users of Facebook (vs ~2B for Google).

Edit: wait, you aren't even the person I replied to. I think that person's point, although I disagree with it, is more relevant than yours, and I'd like to hear how they came to their conclusion.

Yep, I generalized, perhaps I should have worded it differently. But as of right now, I can block Facebook 100% out of my life without a second thought. But I am stuck with Google.

A "student privacy pledge" involving Google kind of makes my blood boil, given their push to have schools force children onto their platform via chromebooks.

It's just like "don't be evil": nothing more than underhanded, cynical corporate PR window dressing.

Or, alternatively, they're telling the truth.

I've pointed out previously that critics of Google and Facebook often assert that every word they say is a lie, then use that to support the position that they can't be trusted. Absent other information that's a fallacious argument.

So, with regard to Chromebooks specifically-- not your view of Google as a whole-- what bad behavior do you claim is happening and how do you know that to be true?

Maybe the article should be titled "A Case Against Google." It is not the only case against Google.

I personally feel passionately about antitrust but not so much about privacy. Obviously, some people feel differently.

But the point is that the fact that some people think privacy is a bigger deal shouldn't diminish the antitrust aspect. Antitrust is a completely separate issue.

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