autotelic, autistic, assonance-hole©.

My letter to the chairman of the Anti-Trust Subcommittee

You can write this fellow as well via his website; but you’ll have to overlook that you cannot set the “state” field to anything but Wisconsin. The link is:

My letter was written as a direct result of watching today’s anti-trust hearing and noticing the “Soul Train Dance Off” undertaken by Schmidt and Creighton on behalf of their predatory continuance of monopolistic power. I realize that the determination as to whether or not this is accurate remains to be decided for us all, but, to my mind? It’s quite a no-brainer, an instance of “no contest”; the question of whether or not they are acting to improperly impede competition using the power gained by being an effective monopoly in search can only be answered one way, “D U H !!”

So, without further ado… my words to Sub-Committee Chairman Herb Kohl:

I am writing today as a direct result of watching the webcast of the anti-trust hearing about Google. I find there is important information that was not presented (or effectively explained) to your committee that, I think, profoundly shapes understanding of how Google’s activity influences competition and, more specifically, if that activity improperly impacts competition. Before I begin, my sincere apologies for the length of this communication. It is an unfortunate reality that understanding matters requires a verbosity that is fairly uncommon in constituent communications, I’m sure.

First, it is important to understand the manner in which Google’s technology and policy choices affects search results. The concepts I wish to introduce you are called “bubbling” and “tracking”:

  • Bubbling is the activity by which natural search results are modified to remove results that are ranked as being “less relevant” or “less important” as determined by the search provider’s algorithms.
  • Tracking is the activity by which every interaction of a particular user with search is logged and analyzed to determine that user’s interests, frequency of response to particular links or types/categories of links, etc.

Tracking serves many purposes, among which is to provide data that refines the criteria for bubbling. Bubbling is used primarily to attempt to rank results for most effective “conversion” – a term that defines successful transition of a user from the search engine result list to a particular site included in search results; companies pay quite handsomely to secure keywords and categories that support conversion.

With the above in mind, let us now talk about how online advertising works and, specifically, how paid advertising impacts and affects both bubbling and tracking (i.e., how they occur, how their results are handled, etc). A company advertising with a search engine can choose from several methods:

  • Bidding or unique reservation of particular keywords, concepts, or combinations thereof.
  • Payment for highly visible placement on search results pages that contain particular keywords, concepts, or combinations thereof.
  • Payment for focused visibility by geographic area, by demographics associated with the user (tracking!), and by time of day, day of week, and many other criteria.

The degree to which a search engine provider can “guarantee” focused exposure to particular users for a price is, obviously, a competitive advantage. So too, the degree to which companies can compete (or not) for that exposure between search providers is an advantage. This is the point at which advertising, bubbling, and tracking converge; it is also the point at which the case for improper manipulation of search results is found as well as demonstration of monopoly power in action; there is a reason that Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, etc are unable to compete and that reason is that Google uses exclusive contracts as well as scraping, bubbling, tracking, and competitive down-ranking to ensure they cannot.

Several times during today’s hearing, the question “how might Google remedy this without antitrust action?” was presented and, each time, Schmidt and Creighton danced out from under a direct answer. But anyone with even limited understanding of how this works can tell you the answer:

  • Offer users the ability to opt out of bubbling and tracking and
  • Agree that bubbling and tracking will not be permitted to influence or affect search results or advertising pricing (thus, visibility)

The reason Google does not wish to address this is simple — it will level the playing field, remove their unfair advantage, and destroy their monopoly. For similar reasons, they do not wish to admit they have scraped content to populate competitive offerings as a direct attempt to improperly interfere with the competition’s ability to obtain visibility via unbiased, unmodified search results.

You see, Google once was the best company at providing “real” (i.e., unbiased) results; but they have given that up in pursuit of monopolizing the connection between search and online advertising. Rather than plan for ways to compete that did not unfairly restrict or otherwise impede the market, they have actively developed technology and endorsed/engaged in behavior that does both:

  • Their choices do not benefit consumers, as consumers see only what Google thinks they should (i.e., what Google has been paid to show them).
  • Their choices do not benefit other search providers, as the perception that real, unbiased results are “lesser” has been carefully cultivated by Google’s behaviors.
  • Their choices do not benefit companies unless they submit to fundamentally weakened positions that ensure Google’s success at the expense of their own ability to compete or succeed alone.

Google actively down-ranks visibility OR passively effects the same by putting paid advertising in place that pushes natural results out of view.

I must admit, it pains me to see a company with as great a set of contributions to technology and to the world turn so completely from their original credo of “Don’t be evil” as they have; but it remains that they have, in fact, done so and apparently, believe and think that they may continue to do so with impunity so long as they dance from under direct questions and pretend that the force of monopoly power they bring to bear every day is something that consumers, companies, or other search providers can “just choose not to use” when they have so strategically ensured that any other choice is effectively (as Stoppelmann put it), “To become invisible or nonexistent.”

I would point out that Google has taken this very mindset of arrogance and impunity so very much further than “merely” these monopolistic practices against search providers! Even as I type, they are rolling out programs and products to effectively bring the same leverage and monopolistic power to bear against social networks; once more using the prowess they have developed in search to drive greater adoption of their services and products and all the more tightly couple social networking activity with search by farming its data to continue refining bubbling and tracking in support of the pattern outlined in the above.

This behavior is consistent and prevalent across search, their email, documents, calendars, chat, and now, their social network products. It all figures into refinement of bubbling and tracking and all outcomes feed more and more monopolistic advertising and display choices.

I most sincerely hope you and your colleagues will not permit these technology giants to befuddle you with lengthy asides that only distract and permit Google to slip from under simple, direct responses as they so deftly did in today’s hearings. I am hopeful that your subcommittee will curb the arrogance and continuing predation via monopolistic power that has pervaded and corrupted Google, restoring true, open, and unimpeded competition that protects the level playing field upon which our global network depends for its health, innovation, and continued growth.

Thank you for the kindness of your attention and all my best wishes for good fortune, insight, and perseverance until these realities find remedy.

Bonnie L. Nadri