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Google in Sicko Storm - Welcome to democracy google style

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I can see that in some cases this might be a conflict of interest. However, I think that Google has gone to almost heroic efforts to prevent such an effect. The fact that there's a clear differentiation between non-augmented search results and sponsored links makes it difficult for them to play games. It's true that even the presentation of ads is influenced by algorithms that Google doesn't make public, and they could potentially game these results. But it seems like doing this in any significant way would be cutting off their core income in favor of a small degree of prejudice, and would be very unwise.

Still, you're free to bring your search business elsewhere.

I wonder why you believe that Google should be even-handed when it comes to spreading a political message.

* Why don't you criticize the movie theaters that are showing Moore's movie? Within my community (having very few theaters), the choice of which movie to play certainly influences public opinion, and I haven't seen theaters providing any kind of equal time to those who disagree with Moore.
* Moore himself is notoriously unfair. It's well documented that he edits interviews, going as far as to assemble sentences that the subjects never uttered. One might go as far as to call it lying. Why should we be interested in defending his work, of all things?
It seems like anything that's presented in the form of "the struggle of the people against 'Big Xyz' " automatically becomes a cause célèbre, one worthy of defense, by definition. But why should we fight for Moore in preference to others, and be outraged if someone offers "Big Xyz" a means of getting out their side of the story?

And in this particular case, why haven't we learned our lesson about Michael Moore. It's well established that the content of Bowling for Columbine was largely out-and-out lies, and the rest being indirection and gross exaggeration. My understanding (I didn't see it) is that Fahrenheit 9/11 may have been better, but once grandstanding was boiled out, the remains were either ho-hum old news, or suppositions founded on the most tenuous connections.

Certainly the issues addressed in these films are things worthy of debate, but Moore's style of presentation does not foster debate; it seeks to preclude debate by causing people to make up their minds without the benefit of all information. I'm willing to fight for someone's right to make a statement, but it's absurd to place Moore's poor-quality work on a pedestal above others.

Your points about google are well taken.

Let's not get into debate about michael moore since it could lead to loong political discussions, and i really wasn't trying to say anything about whether i approved of his stuff or not, and i don't think it's relevant.

As you say, right not the pressure keeping google from really slanting results to favor sites showing adsense is just that if they bias the results *too much* in this way, people will start using other search engines.  so there are ecological pressures on them to present good results, and they seem to take that seriously.

On the other hand it seems to me that each year, and as they become more domineat, they discard a little more of their ethics and go a little bit farther in the direction of pushing their ads.

I think your points about scarcity of resources are good -- the key dilemna here is that if you only have a certain amount of space on the top results page, or a certain # of movie theatres, who decides what gets shown.  For movie theatres, this is probably usually based on what movies will bring in the most money, though there are also other things like contractual obligations to theatres, etc.  For search engines.. it's a combination of wanting to send people to advertisers so you can really make money, vs. presenting useful results to the user so they come back and use you again.  I guess this is where my anti-capitalism inclinations come through -- there are just some things that i don't want to be driven by forces which seek to maximize profits.

However, I do think that the scale of this problem is relatively minor, because as we have both acknowledged, there is also a very high pressure on any search engine to return useful results, and if any search engine really went too far in pushing irrelevant advertising above useful content, people would switch away.  And as long as that is the case, i do think this problem is relatively minor.  As long as the "cost" of switching to a new search engine is low enough, and as long as it isn't prohibitively expensive to compete with google in terms of ability to index the web (this might be a real impediment though), then there will be alternatives to choose from and this will keep google from becoming too evil i suppose.

Agreed, Mouser.

I'm about as pro-capitalist as one could imagine, and I am quite sure that Adam Smith's "invisible hand" will make sure that everything does achieve equilibrium. But in order for that to happen, we must have these conversations. If Google does act unethically, then it's certainly our prerogative to take business elsewhere, but we can only do so if we debate the issue.

And fwiw, I agree that there are reasons to be concerned (even if I don't think that this topic is one of them). I'm thinking of conversations I've had with uISVs about Google's handling of click-fraud. Google really reaps the benefit of the "long tail", with most of their ads (in my experience) being from small or niche advertisers. These people are most susceptible to click-fraud, but since any one of them is only a tiny drop in the bucket to Google, they don't have any leverage to force Google to address the problem, at least in any significant way. To me, this is a serious problem.

Interesting thing. The big media here is reporting the news, but they completely ignore what we are discussing here (ethics) and they instead focus on the error that Ms. Turner made. They prefer to turn the attention to the possibility of Google picking up on Mr. Moore. Fine.

Of course, I should mention that the big media didn't do their homework, and they are basically copy-pasting what TechCrunch said. Hurrah for prominent bloggers :(

I think the Register article makes the essential point here very nicely. When the cluetrain leaves the internet, and heads into the real world, it jumps the tracks. It's great for people to talk about letting your employees be themselves and tearing down the walls between companies and their markets. But if you really do this, and one of your people says something unpopular, the attack dogs that make up the modern media will eat you for lunch.

One of Google's core values is supposedly "do no evil" or some such. This may have even been their guiding principle once - and by once, I mean when they were privately held. But when a company goes public, they no longer make their own rules in any meaningful sense. They play by the rules established by Wall Street, and those rules are actually pretty gung-ho when it comes to evil. (Oops, sorry, I didn't really mean "evil", I meant "fiduciary responsibility to maximize shareholder value".)

I always have to smile at the mention of the invisible hand, though. It's a 230-year-old metaphor, yanked out of its original context about the balance between foreign and domestic trade, and given a whole new life as a universal palliative. The invisible hand takes the frightening, highly ambiguous complexity of the real world of market dynamics and reduces it to a simplistic, soothing mantra which assures us all will be well. Whenever the invisible hand shows up, I take it as a clear signal of what kind of discussion is actually taking place: one about religious belief.

And yes, someone who says that advertising=democracy is either so calculatingly cold as to be sociopathic (hardly impossible) or rather befuddled on the finer points of what democracy actually is. There's an old saying that goes "never attribute to malice what can be explained by mere incompetence". So I tend to think Google's Ms. Turner probably spent the social studies class that covered democracy passing notes and doodling on her workbook.


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