Google’s “Black Box” Boasts Will Attract Government Scrutiny

by Mike Wendy on February 25, 2011

The Washington Post reports today that Google has changed its “proprietary search equations” to make Google, well, better.

According to a blog post from the search giant:

Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking–a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries–and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites–sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites–sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.

“Algorithmic improvement…designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites…[to] provide better rankings for high-quality sites…”

“Low-quality.”  “High-quality.”  “Thoughtful analysis.”  How does that look in an algorithm?  Who knows? But the team over there in Silicon Valley wanted us to know what’s going on…in that open source, proprietary black box they’ve got.

As I touched upon yesterday (in this blog post), the more of these kinds of headlines that get trotted out – which boast of their magic – the more scrutiny from the regulatory class they’re inviting.  This isn’t KFC’s secret herbs and spices.  As the search company and its industry cheerleaders constantly remind us, Search is an important tool for economic growth, as well as for the promotion of democratic voice.  We’re talking the public interest, not a picnic table.

How long do you think policymakers are going to eat that chicken before they want to know what’s inside?

Google (and I fear the industry) is one story closer to finding out.


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