Google concludes that search results are protected by First Amendment

By on May 11, 2012, 9:30 AM

Google has come to the conclusion that results obtained through search engines are within the provider’s First Amendment rights. The proclamation is in response to those that have complained that the search giant favors their own products in search results.

PCMag points out that Google has denied the practice but even if they did favor their own results, the prioritizing would be protected under Google’s First Amendment right to decide how they want to present information to the user.

Google has published a report on the matter in association with law professor Eugene Volokh. In it, Volokh says that selective search results are no different than newspapers, magazines or other media outlets that hand-select what content they want to cover and where it should be placed. As such, he feels that any type of government regulation that forces the company to show certain search results would violate Google’s First Amendment right to free speech.

Volokh isn’t just speaking on Google’s behalf, but all search engines in general.

"Search engines are free to include and highlight their own listings of (for example) local review pages even though Yelp might prefer that the search engines instead rank Yelp's information higher,” he said.

Those arguing against prioritized results feel that search engines, specifically Google, are using their dominance to halt the competition. What if Google were to put Zagat reviews, Motorola products and YouTube videos ahead of more relevant results simply because they own those companies? That’s precisely the question that some have posed.




User Comments: 9

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insect said:

"What if Google were to put Zagat reviews, Motorola products and YouTube videos ahead of more relevant results simply because they own those companies?"

So what if they do? Just means you need to keep in mind the bias when you use the product just as you would when reading a magazine, or even Techspot.

Google is a for-profit company. It is in their best interest to both put their products first but also not lose customers. If Google stops displaying the "best" results because they want to favor their products (I.e., listing only Zagat rated restaurants in the search results even though there are better restaurants in the search area) then people will catch on and stop using Google in favor of search engines that do give the best results.

Customers drive decisions. Always. Many people seem to have forgotten this though in various monopoly or anti-trust lawsuits. Rarely is there a monopoly in this day and age (many many companies offer the same products - there is a lot of redundancy in the system), however because "everyone" uses the best people think there is a monopoly. Also, people are lazy and hate to actually look for alternatives (I.e., learning how to use Linux over Windows).

treeski treeski said:

Google is a for-profit company. It is in their best interest to both put their products first but also not lose customers.

I would be wary of a non-profit influenced by its sponsors too

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Customers drive decisions. Always. Many people seem to have forgotten this though in various monopoly or anti-trust lawsuits. Rarely is there a monopoly in this day and age (many many companies offer the same products - there is a lot of redundancy in the system), however because "everyone" uses the best people think there is a monopoly. Also, people are lazy and hate to actually look for alternatives (I.e., learning how to use Linux over Windows).

You're right in that regard. Pre-Google, everyone had their own favorite search engine. After Google blew up, pretty much everyone used Google and for good reason, their searches were far superior to anything the competition had. Bing basically bought their way into the rankings because so far there is no better mousetrap.

TorturedChaos, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Google is a for-profit company. It is in their best interest to both put their products first but also not lose customers. If Google stops displaying the "best" results because they want to favor their products (I.e., listing only Zagat rated restaurants in the search results even though there are better restaurants in the search area) then people will catch on and stop using Google in favor of search engines that do give the best results.

I agree 100%. People see to forget that all the cooperation do it for one reason: TO MAKE MONEY! They aren't here to be your friend. Only reason they are nice to you is because you pay them money. If they are jerks to you, you will spend your money other places.

And I see absolutely nothing wrong with this.

Guest said:

and you forget that there might not be any "other places" if google has it's way, competition is great for consumers but monopolies and market abuse are not. What if google starts to delete search results so that they work better with their financiel interests. If they are now allowed to prioritize th their liking whos going to stop them from going all the way and start removing links they don't like. The search engine is the key to internet, it decides what you can find and what you can't. Google should not be allowed to prioritize according to their finacial interests because it opens the door to manipulation and later to censorship

Wagan8r Wagan8r said:

I totally agree. A company can do with its products what it see fit. If you don't like what they have to offer, go somewhere else.

TJGeezer said:

What if? indeed. Seems to me the real question here is whether Google's search engine is a public utility (I.e. legislated monopoly), from which even-handed treatment for all might reasonably be required, or a private company providing a service competitively. IANAL but seems to me the answer would also have a bearing on whether Google can/should be required to disclose privately held data like a user's search history or email. Not that such basic constitutional questions have much to do with what the government does to its citizens in the U.S. these days. But the current U.S. Corporate Supremes might have something to say about it. Eventually. Maybe.

Ranger12 Ranger12 said:

Seems to me that the alternative to Google displaying its preferred search results is the Government telling it what it can and can't show. I believe the informed consumer in a free market has more power to effect change than the informed voter can effect governmental change. So I would side with Google on this one. Screw up and I'm ditching you for a better search engine.

MilwaukeeMike said:

Seems to me that the alternative to Google displaying its preferred search results is the Government telling it what it can and can't show. I believe the informed consumer in a free market has more power to effect change than the informed voter can effect governmental change. So I would side with Google on this one. Screw up and I'm ditching you for a better search engine.

Well... you should know that Google's lobbying budget is about $5 million. It's far and away the biggest out there for tech companies. The govt does what google wants, don't kid yourself.

Here's a good example... We all remember SOPA and the outrage it caused. Web blackouts etc. Google opposed it and the entire internet community followed and it wasn't even voted on. Then CISPA comes along and it makes it easier for companies to share users info. Well google likes that and so we have no blackouts, no protests, and it IS voted on and it PASSES through the house.

Here's the whole story if you're interested. Explains how google pushes their weight around. [link]

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