Google Admits: Search Results Biased

Dennis Faas's picture

Under investigation for abusing its domination of the search market, Google has floated a new argument: that the way it chooses and arranges its search results qualifies as protected free speech under the U.S. First Amendment.

The new approach is part of an attempt to stave off government investigations that could seriously hamper Google's ability to operate, as well as its profits and its reputation.

The investigation is based upon two related issues: first, that Google has a dominant position in the search engine market, and second, that Google uses this position to support its own businesses and partners at the expense of others.

Issues Combined Lead to Major Legal Problems

Separately, these issues do not breach any laws. However, the combination of the two can lead to major legal problems.

In effect, businesses that hold a dominant position in a market are often held to a higher legal standard of "fair play" than smaller companies with far less ability to control the business climate in which they operate.

To date, most of Google's defenses against claims of unfair market behavior have centered around the notion that anyone can set up their own search business and compete, often arguing its competitors are "only a click away."

Google Defends Its Right to Bias

Now the company has switched its emphasis. Although Google previously questioned any suggestion that its search results were biased, it now argues that its bias is entirely permissible.

Google has commissioned a University of California at Los Angles law scholar, Eugene Volokh, to put together a document supporting this new position.

Volokh's argument is reportedly that Google should be treated in the same way as major newspapers. (Source:

Search Rankings Compare to Newspaper Content and Layout

According to Volokh, Google's decisions regarding the order in which to present links is no different than a newspaper deciding which stories to run on the front page, or in what order to present facts.

He argues that Google's decisions regarding the rank of individual sites effectively counts as the company's opinions, and that Google has the right to express its opinions without legal constraint.

Experts say there are some previous cases that could support Google's argument.

For example, newspapers with no rivals in their markets have been allowed to exclude certain advertisers, and courts have allowed The New York Times the right to choose its own method for producing a bestselling book list. (Source:

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