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Posted at 12:05 PM ET, 01/13/2011

Google search guru in Washington to lobby against Internet search engine rules

By Cecilia Kang

Google search engine guru Matt Cutts met with members of the Federal Trade Commission and staff on Capitol Hill this week to argue why the firm opposes federal rules on Internet search results.

The visit, what Cutts calls his "education tour," comes as Washington and Europe have been focusing on the search giant's business practices. European regulators have launched an investigation brought by complaints from some companies that Google has purposefully lowered their rankings, making it difficult to compete. The New York Times reports on E.U. queries to advertisers as it investigates those claims.

Critics in the United States, including competitors and some consumer groups, have called for "search regulation" to ensure Google doesn't unfairly prioritize its own partners and business lines in search results or lower those of other companies that may pose challenges for the firm. Cutts also plans to meet with consumer groups during the visit.

At a press briefing at Google's Washington offices, Cutts came armed with a 89-page slide presentation called "Search Integrity." He explained that while search results are based on an computer algorhythm for the most relevant results, engineers such as Cutts go into the search engine routinely to manually weed out spam and viruses.

"The only reasons I know of to go in and change [search rankings] manually is for security, a court order or spam," Cutts said. "It is impossible to pay for a better ranking."

He said the task of fighting spam is enormous. Of the 1 billion search queries done each day, the site also deals with 1 million spam pages each hour.

Competitors see Google's 60 percent share in the search engine market as an unfair advantage. The search firm's proposed merger with online travel software provider ITA is under review by U.S. regulators, and travel sites such as Expedia, Travelocity and TripAdvisor are lobbying the Justice Department against the deal. The companies say Google could choose to list its own travel sites higher on search results.

Phone giants Verizon and AT&T have argued that new rules on Internet access should include other Internet services such as search engines. Verizon executive vice president Tom Tauke has urged Congress to look at the "whole ecosystem" of Internet-related companies and other access points that consumers use to get information on the Web.

In its argument against rules for search engines, Google says the firm has already disclosed much about its search process.

"People choose to go to Google," Cutts said. "There is no barrier to entry, and with one click they can choose to go to another search engine,."

By Cecilia Kang  | January 13, 2011; 12:05 PM ET
Categories:  Antitrust, Google  
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This is utter nonsense,why should restrictions be put in place, they are a website, they own the google domain and therefore can do what they like with it. you do not tell shops they cant promote items they produce over other items they stock, how is this any different?
as mentioned, google is one of many search engines, if users do not like the way in which google opperates then they would go to an alternative search provider.
Regards, Rob
Leeds, United Kingdom

Posted by: robertszy | January 13, 2011 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Ah Rob, you just don't think like a liberal Democrat does. 'It's Google's property, they can do what they like with it?' That's crazy talk! All property is either owned by the government, or they let you be responsible for taking care of it while they tell you how you can use it. That's the way the socialist party over here in the USA "rolls."

Posted by: Cranios | January 13, 2011 3:38 PM | Report abuse

"The only reasons I know of to go in and change [search rankings] manually is for security, a court order or spam," Cutts said. "It is impossible to pay for a better ranking."
At least half of those million spams a day must be emails hawking ways to improve rankings.

BTW, Robert from Leeds, there are many companies (Google is just one) who offer "free" search-like services, but take what is not their's behind the scenes. Social Networking sites come to mind. The FCC is charged with countering sleazy and shameless retail practices, which can be very shameless indeed.

My point is that Google was not at the FCC to answer charges, but rather to lobby on behalf of "the industry"

Posted by: gannon_dick | January 13, 2011 7:48 PM | Report abuse

the government has no place in this... if google is giving people the wrong answer, they can go to bing, or yahoo, etc.

Posted by: staticvars | January 14, 2011 11:51 PM | Report abuse

UK price comparison site Foundem -- which violates Google's quality guidelines by aggregating content from other sites -- claims to have persuaded Google to whitelist their site in its algorithm (they are spam-penalty proof), a claim documented in numerous news stories since February 2010. Did anyone at the FTC or Congress ask Matt about those claims? Did he address them?

If Google did indeed whitelist a known spammer, they have left open the door to regulation because clearly users won't be able to trust a search engine that can be bullied into abrogating its own standards by elite publishers.

Posted by: michaelmartnez | January 19, 2011 12:48 PM | Report abuse

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