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Search: the ultimate discrimination tool? Leonsis: "You don't exist from Page 3 on."

"On search, you want to be on that first page," Leonsis said. "You don't exist from Page 3 on." This is what Ted Leonsis, a co-founder of AOL, said in the Washington Post this week.

This is very relevant to the online giants and their call for a fifth non-discrimination net neutrality principle in legislation and on the AT&T-Bell South merger. What Leonsis is saying is what we all know. It doesn't matter that Google or Yahoo give a hundreds of thousands of links in our search results, virtually everyone only has the time or inclination to check the first or maybe second page of search results. "You don't exist from Page 3 on."

Now that Google has 50% share of the search market and rising, wouldn't it be open and free of Google to share all the discrimination (ranking) parameters they have embedded in their secret algorithm?

  • What we already know is that search engines discriminate against websites based on fees. That's their entire business model. If you don't pay the most to be ranked at the top of the sponsored searches, you may not exist.
  • I thought I heard net neutrality proponents say they were concerned with a tiering of the Internet becuase all of the little sites or blogs need to be treated the same as the big sites. How is Google's search algorithm "neutral" to the average website or blog? In reality they "don't exist."

By the way, how do we know that Google does not discriminate in ways that net neutrality proponents are worried about? Does Google favor or bury searches based on religion? on political persuasion? on ethnicity? on socio-economic status? on geopgraphy? How do we know what Google's secret algorithm actually discriminates against? This is a legitimate question becuase:

  • This is the company that is bragging about how YouTube and Internet search will change politics because everything someone says can instantly go online and be searchable forever. How do we know Google won't use their power to discriminate to tilt the election process?
  • This is the company that cooperated with China to censor information the communists do not want their people to learn about.
  • This is the company that fought a Justice Department request for information on child pornography searches to enforce the law to protect children from exploitation.
  • This is the company that is being sued by authors, publishers, newspapers and trademark owners for taking their property without compensation.

Why isn't search just as big a potential bottleneck and gatekeeper as internet access? If people don't know there is discrimination that they personally care about in Google's secret search algorithm, how would they know to switch search engines?

If the concern behind net neutrality is that a company has the potential to discriminate, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and IAC's all certainly have the potential to discriminate against groups based on religion, politics, ethnicity, or income.

  • Why shouldn't a fifth non-discrimination net neutrality principle apply to search engines as well?