SEMPO sends a letter to FTC against government regulation

SEMPO sends a letter to FTC against government regulationThe Board of Directors of Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization SEMPO on December 2012 sends a statement to the FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz having regard to search engine regulation and search labeling transparency.

Considering it a censorship to freedom of press, it calls FTC to an official stance on whether search engine service should or not be regulated by government agencies.

Appealing for government regulation

Since search engines role became so relevant, a government regulation is becoming strongly appealed for from various sources, being them academics or customers. It all begins with Google and their algorithms.

At Google they developed a search engine algorithm able to return users the most relevant web information they are looking for. By this algorithm Google has so changed the online search as we knew it that it ended up with “to google” deserving a place into the Oxford English Dictionary verbs.

A lot of services are provided beside online search function

Obviously, development and innovation are parts of a business that Google runs absorbing a large share of the market of the online search service, as well as the others search engines do.

Apart from search, they commonly provide maps, shopping, advertisement, emailing and a lot of auxiliary services.

Forced by competition, every search engine tries to offer a better service than its rivals, even it should not be so easy for smaller companies which have less founds to invest on innovation and tend to benefit from second-hand technological innovations.

A debate launched by The New York Times

Years ago, the New York Times launched the debate whether search engines should or not be regulated by the government. The question was motivated by the fact that companies behind big search engines like Google or Bing or Yahho! are considered as actually driving internet economy.

The debate stems from concerns on competition with other smaller search engines, on the financial gain or loss for companies related to the ranking in a search engine’s listing.

The theory of public utility as the main argument for government regulation’s advocates

Advocates of regulating search service by government agencies, promote theories of search engines – although referring to their global business of online search and collateral services as social groups and advertising – as public utilities. Public utility is commonly an entity providing essential public services as electrical and phone companies do.

Considering that the services they provide is essential for all the people, government regulates by law the distribution of their services throughout users applying its control over boards and shares of markets, in the view of impeding monopoly and unfair competition.

How could government agencies be so expertized to compete with high-specialized technicists?

Biggest companies of technologic services like Yahoo!, Microsoft or Google use to employ a lot of scientists for develop and research, challenging their brains to shift innovation limits. We can imagine how well rewarded they are by those companies with enormous incomes, with a surplus as a price for keeping secret their precious know-hows.

Since States are not so prodigious on money to invest in innovation and research, attackers of government regulation find it challenging for state scientist when they are called to apply their basic researches to decide standards of fairness for search results, to consent growth and innovation under regulation of competition and experimentation, to avoid system manipulation after disclosure of the algorithms, to address the risk of a standardization of search results.

A survey demonstrates a large majority of backwards for regulation

The Rasmussen Reports conducted a US national telephone survey asking for a yes or no to government regulation of search engines. It turns out that about 80% of adults say no to government regulation and that the majority of people answering negatively is a frequent Internet user.

It is interesting that the same survey opens up to two biggest problems internet users are facing: over 70% of internet users is disappointed by irrelevant data returned after their queries and a bit more percentage describe itself as concerned about the privacy of their searches.

SEMPO’s statement opens up to the debate

With a statement issued on November 15, 2011, SEMPO, an organization of individulas and companies managing search engine optimization and marketing campaigns, sent a letter to the Chairman of the US Federal Trade Commission about the harm descedning from a government regolation of search function.

The Federal Trade Commission does not reply.

Arguments against government regulation

SEMPO is against government regulationfor search engines. They argue that regulation would constitute a censorship violating the freedom of the press. Indeed, government agency would not be able to keep up with the fast-moving environment typical of Internet.

Favorable thesis on regulation of search engines and of their services

Voices pro-regulation argues that a government regulation would restrict not appropriate web content. Limiting permission to promote search engine’s own content would then downsize biggest companies allowing competitors to arise and innovate.

For SEMPO government regulation would be a censorship to freedom of press

SEMPO argues that government regulation is a censorship to search engines for several reasons.

First of all, it points out the fact that search functions are created and offered by private companies as an open and free channel of communication.

This openness is suitable for looking at Internet like the press, because search engine companies are like publishers which displays contents on their websites as well as newspapers do. Similarly, as newspapers avoids censorship, the same freedom of press should be granted to search engines.

Search function is not a government-run utility

Then, SEMPO outlines that online search function is not a government-run utility, established by law and thus subject to bureaucratic oversight. It is set by private companies for their own business using proprietary technologies and algorithms so that they should be free to approach costumers and make competition.

The competition makes up the service more accurate since the user is free to switch from a search engine to another to find more useful and relevant results. This pushes search engine to further develop and innovate their technologies making results more relevant to attract and satisfy customers.

Agencies’ expertise could not be able to keep up with SERP evolution

Agencies of government regulation, points out SEMPO, would never be able to detect and personalize search service to users nor they would be able to establish standards for a service to be fair and satisfactorily delivered.

Furthermore, due to lack of expertise, agencies could never keep up with such an innovation prompted by Internet that even biggest companies can hardly bear, as demonstrated by the ongoing evolution of search engine results pages.

Moreover, online search service is a collective service empowered not only by search engines but by the information’s owners like publishers, federal, state and local governments, merchants, and individual bloggers and content producers. All these voices could be shuttered by the regulation of Internet with unpopular results for government.

What Internet needs from Govern for developing

SEMPO suggests against regulation some key needs to address for Internet to continue: making it evolved in as unfettered a regulatory environment as possible, sharing information with the search engines without harming their revenue models, personalizing results maintaining high privacy settings, placing the consumer experience above short-term financial gain.

Governments should on the contrary grant search engines to provide the best results without regulation letting publishers free to determine the content of their websites and to participate in a competitive free-market advertising service.

At last, SEMPO is concerned that realizing the idea of a government regulation for search engines would set a precedent of interfering with Internet content and would hinder growth.

The academic study of Jamison on regulating search engines as public utilities

In a work of 2012 “Should Google Search be regulated as a public utility?” academic Mark A. Jamison of University of Florida addresses the same question and concludes that regulation of search would likely be counterproductive.

Even if targeted on Google, the work examines all the doctrines and concepts surfaced by those favorable to regulation of search engines, like public utility, common carrier or essential facilities’ concepts.

The argument most discussed to draw attention toward regulation is that giant search engines can lead to a monopoly of the service. Jamison reflects upon the fact that there is not a monopoly even for those biggest companies like Google and that regulation could stop investments on technology or produce a stifling effect on innovation.

Moreover, Jamison states that there is no proof that competition is harmed by giant search engines as long as smaller companies benefits from innovation prompted by biggest ones while forcing search engines to reveal their proprietary algorithm could break up innovation and independent technology.

Google and its algorithms appears to be the source of the problem

All the debate on whether search service provided by search engine should or not be regulated by govern agencies, stems from Google and the risk that its large share of market could possibly constitute a natural monopoly.

Most of all concerns are related to the use of the algorithms and whether they are affecting the way it ranks by demoting rival results while promoting Google's own results.

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