Search engine regulation

I think we are seeing only the start of a very interesting debate on search engine regulation. This article is a good place to start from IMHO.

The article frames the debate as two major issues, one around search results, and another around privacy, stating its position as follows:

I haven’t been able to read the underlying paper advocating regulation and so can’t comment on the substantive arguments. But regulation, as a general matter, of natural search results would be ill advised. Consumer privacy is a different matter, where regulation is more justified.

It is hard to agree with this positions as it makes a lot of sense, but there are plenty of things a search engine can do to doctor search results. Remember back in web 1.0 days, search engines would frequently doctor the search results, peppering the top hits with ads disguised as search results. Now that search engines have become such a fundamental part of the net, both in terms of infrastructure and economics, the question will be raised whether to regulate them.

But this debate could quickly becomes a quagmire:

General search is not a market without competition and required government involvement/approval of algorithms or changes in algorithms would potentially impede advancements and technological development. Would all search engines (regardless of market share) be subject to similar regulation? Would any site with an algorithm that displays search results? While fairness in search results sounds good to some in the abstract, the practical implementation of such a regulatory scheme is where it all might break down and wreck havoc.

We should also not forget that policy and regulation decisions sometimes have unintended consequences.

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