Last week, Executive Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt appeared before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee to answer some questions about Google’s search results. Allegedly, Google has been giving their own websites an extra boost in certain SERPs. For instance, if I search for “restaurant reviews”, Zagat.com is the first result; it just so happens that Google owns Zagat.
Immoral? Not if you’re a free-market guy like Senator Mike Lee.
At its core, Google is a business—not a public service. If the government were to establish some sort of search engine, they would have a legal responsibility to ensure search results were ranked in order of relevance (whatever they defined “relevance” as) and were not influenced by personal or other interests.
But Google isn’t a charity; they’re not providing the largest and most-used worldwide search engine just so you can access free information*. They’ve built an empire based on providing customers desired services and charging for those services—you know, a business. And there’s nothing inherently evil with using the service you provide to promote yourself.
Should phone book** companies not list themselves—even prominently—in their own directories? Should television shows have to run commercials for other networks’ TV shows?
The Internet is one of only free markets left out there, and it’s what the free market is all about. Everyone has a chance to compete, everyone can access the same information, and no one is being forced to use any service or click on any link. There are websites that add no value, yet they get huge amounts of traffic and generate significant advertising revenue.
And that’s okay.
Free-market lovers realize it’s not the government’s job to decide winners and losers. If people want to see pictures of cats, then the Internet (and Google) should be there to provide those pictures. As a Tea Party darling, Constitutional scholar, and free-market enthusiast, Lee should understand that.
But while Mike Lee may say he favors free markets:
As a conservative Republican who favors free markets, I believe that ensuring robust competition in this critical area of our nation’s economy will benefit consumers, spur innovation and lead to job creation.
He apparently only favors free markets with results agreeable to him:
One thing is clear: given its significant ability to steer e-commerce and the flow of online information, Google is in a position to help determine who will succeed and who will fail on the Internet.
But is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, right? And even if it is a bad thing, why does the federal government get to “determine who will succeed and who will fail”? In a free market, people will make that determination; we don’t need the government to regulate the free market.
It’s not like the free market would result untouchable corporation or groups of people going hungry or an entire race being unable to eat at certain restaurants or swim in certain swimming pools.
**You know, back when phone books were relevant.