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Searches, Politics and The Scales of Justice

What do online searches have in common with politics and the scales of justice? Somebody is usually trying to tip the balance for economic gain. Google is under antitrust scrutiny from the European Union over its search-and-ad dominance, and there’s generally more of a political will there to regulate businesses. Here’s some context.

Online advertising is the epitome of nickels and dimes adding up to lots of dollars. Even pennies and fractions of pennies can add up to millions because 1.) the volume of ads and clicks is so great and 2.) a small percentage of sales can easily cover the cost of the ads. Getting a top position in a search query is pure gold because depending on the searcher’s temperament, many people don’t look past the top five or 10 items on a search page – and that can include any paid spots that are disguised as search results.

What rankles EU regulators and many internet users worldwide is that there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes collusion going on that could burrow deep into your wallet. All the big tech companies are involved and have a highly vested interest in at least delivering you to a potential seller of a product or service that interests you. The question we want answered is: Does Google, in conjunction with its allies or partners, manipulate search results to limit or skew your choices for their economic benefit?

That’s what the EU is investigating. It claims Google is distorting competition by restricting access to user data for advertising purposes, while reserving such data for its own use, making it harder for rival online advertising services to compete. Google is already facing several antitrust cases in the United States, including one brought by the federal government, which accuses the company of operating an illegal monopoly in the markets for online search and search advertising.

Google generates a reported 80 percent of its revenue from advertising, and it provides ad tech services for advertisers and content publishers to display ads on websites or mobile apps. One focus of the investigation will focus on a number of areas of concern, includes the obligation to use its services to purchase or serve ads on Google or YouTube.

Google isn’t the only company under investigation in Europe. They’re looking at Facebook, too, and there are questions about how Amazon directs potential buyers to specific sellers. Remember, Amazon is a consolidator and shipper for many small businesses.

Must you use Google for your searches? Of course not. Other choices include Yahoo, Bing and DuckDuckGo, which makes a big deal of protecting your privacy from trackers. But in our opinion, the big guys in tech do put their thumbs on the scales of commerce, and you can’t know for sure if you’re getting the best deal or product quality because you’re not getting all the options you’re willing to investigate.

Can we realistically unite as consumers to force Google and its ilk to level the playing field? Not really. Their job is to maximize their shareholder value. Our better prospects for a level playing field will likely come from legislation and legal enforcement – here in the United States and Europe.

If you’re mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore from Google, Amazon and the rest of big tech, you’re free to look elsewhere. Big tech smugly knows this. You can open a window and scream or maybe leave enough comments to show our politicians we can start a movement for better search options.

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