Should Governments Be in the Business of Regulating Search Engines?

How should search engines decide what results are shown more prominently? More importantly, who should decide how those results are shown? That’s a question the United States could be facing.

The president of the United States searched for news about himself and didn’t like that the stories shown were predominantly negative about him. This led to the government announcing it would check into regulating Google. But is regulating search engines the answer to fixing this problem?

When the president launched his search, it showed stories about himself that he didn’t like. He determined it must be rigged to show more negative news stories about him. But that all depends on how Google works, not on whether you like what you read.

Google, who’s in control of 90 percent of searches throughout the world, does have algorithms in place to decide what is shown. Anyone who has written content for the Internet can tell you of the difficulties in seeing their content in Google. There are pages and pages of articles on how to get your article more prominently placed.

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A spokeswoman for Google says that when users “type queries into the Google Search bar, our goal is to make sure they receive the most relevant answers in a matter of seconds. Search is not used to set a political agenda, and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology.

Nevertheless, the current government administration in the U.S. said they are exploring government regulation to ensure fairness for both sides of the political aisle.

So the question remains whether this is the right method or not. Surely all search engines have different algorithms, but they also all probably have similar desires as Google of how to help users find the appropriate story they’re looking for.

There are already countries where the search engines that are used are regulated. China doesn’t allow any search engines that won’t submit to the country’s censorship, so Google is blocked to ensure the Chinese only see what the government wants them to see. That said, it has been rumored that Google is working on a censored search engine for China.

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China isn’t even alone, as Russia blocks Google as well, and North Korea limits the Internet as a whole to its people. It’s possible to get around a blocked search engine sometimes. A VPN can be used in China, but authorities have figured out this workaround, so many VPNs are blocked as well.

The U.S. isn’t proposing to block Google or the Internet outright, but they are considering controlling it, and in many ways maybe that’s the same.

So obviously government regulation works in some areas, but would it work for the U.S.? Google is a big enough search engine that it’s become a verb, as people announce they’re going to “Google it.” But what would happen to Google if it were regulated?

Obviously it would disrupt the company’s usage. While they are used 90% worldwide over other search engines, they certainly wouldn’t be in the U.S. Anyone who isn’t looking for a “balance” of news but is looking for that familiar algorithm of Google will go elsewhere.

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Google isn’t the only show in town. Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuckGo, etc. They’d start getting much more use. Sure, a move could be made to regulate those as well, but that effort would be like a dog chasing its tail

It could upset Google’s ecosystem in other ways as well. We know they use our search traffic to support themselves with ads, but if the search results had to be regulated, wouldn’t the ads need to be regulated as well? Maybe they wouldn’t even be able to support themselves with ads and gather user data.

But is this even something that really needs to be worried about? Is the U.S. really going to make good on this? Or is it just a meaningless outburst?

Regardless of the answers to those questions, if regulated or censored systems are already in place in other countries, whether or not it ever happens in the U.S., there’s a possibility of it happening in any other country.

Luckily, there appears to always be a way around that, unless of course you live somewhere with heavy restriction, such as North Korea.

What do you think of the options for regulating search engines? Join the conversation in the comments section below.

6 comments

  1. To answer the question in the title – NO, the US government should not be regulating search engines. However, it is well known and documented that Google shapes its search results.

    “our goal is to make sure they receive the most relevant answers in a matter of seconds”
    BOVINE MANURE! Relevant for whom?! For the searcher or for Google? If the above statement is true then why “There are pages and pages of articles on how to get your article more prominently placed.”? Apparently the relevancy of a result can be influenced.

    “Search is not used to set a political agenda, and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology.”
    Very disingenuous. Google may not try to set a political agenda but their algorithms do favor companies/sites that pay for high placement; the more they pay, the higher they are listed. Relevancy be damned.

  2. If the search engines are undermining the country and manipulating their users… I myself wasn’t able to access conservative news sources during the 2016. Google removed that option in their news.google portal until after the elections. As a result, I wasn’t getting the other side. Instead the hyperbole was all left; mostly CNN and Huff.

    These companies that cater to a particular mindset – whether left or right – should be clear and transparent with their users. Otherwise, it’s manipulation.

    • “These companies that cater to a particular mindset – whether left or right – should be clear and transparent with their users.”
      Just companies? What about the political parties? Are they being clear and transparent with their members and public at large? No political announcement and no political ad are ever truthful. They all run down the opposition and push the sponsoring party’s agenda.

    • Henry, do you live in the US? If so, your statement is very untrue that Google removed conservative news sources. I happen to be a current events/political writer, so I’m Googling politics every day. And every day I see conservative news stories. Back in 2016 I saw Breitbart and Fox News every day. I just did a test now. I researched “Trump News,” as that was search term that reportedly came up with no conservative stories that started this whole thing. The two two stories were CNN and Fox News. I’d call that fair and balanced, so I’m not sure how you weren’t getting the other side. I have no problem finding it in Google every day, today, or in 2016.

  3. You’re being naive, at the least Laura. Users in South America have been recorded doing a search for KKK and Google returns a picture of Trump. Come on. Also, they regularly posted links to Obama’s State Of The Union speeches but suddenly didn’t post one for Trump’s this year. I’ve long since quit using Google for searching because of the tracking and I urge others to as well. This is yet another good reason to pull back from Google. Searching has to be impartial, just like the press, or we are no longer a free speech country, IMO.

    • Sorry, I’m not being naive. Perhaps it’s others who make comments without doing the research themselves who are being naive. Again, I research politics every single day. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I research all the major players. I search Trump, Pence, Comey, Mueller, Goodlatte, Sessions, Cohen, Schumer, Pelosi, Manafort, Clinton, Rosenstein, McCabe, etc. I research them all, and I have found good and bad all around.

      And BTW, the State of the Union address from 2018 is available through Google. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trumps-state-union-address/

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