Search Engine Problems

Search Engine Honesty


The major search engines are facing large problems in several areas.  These problems are likely to further thin their ranks leading to an even more monopolistic situation.


Click Fraud: Pay-Per-Click targeted advertising is the financial basis of the search industry.  Some observers think that click fraud is approaching a tipping point that poses an existential threat to the entire industry.  (See How Click Fraud Could Swallow the Internet by Charles C. Mann Wired Magazine January 2006.)  Click fraud could also lead to further consolidation because a larger search engine (Google) has major advantages over smaller engines in combating click fraud. 


We are now getting spam messages submitted to our “comments” web forms mainly by people in India and other off-shore locations.  Each message had to be individually, manually, submitted because of our image interpretation requirements.  That this much labor can be expended to send one spam message to one person is bad news for the search industry.  Similar efforts expended in click fraud would be much more lucrative.  


The solutions to the click fraud problem are inevitably going to require progressively more invasive tracking of individual web users, which in turn represents an ever increasing privacy issue.  (See Search Engine Spying.)


Spam: Search engines seem to be gradually losing the spam war.  Many people think the quality of search results has been declining.  One reason for this is that the advent of targeted, pay-per-click advertising significantly changed the landscape regarding search engine spam. 


Formerly, the financial incentive for deceptive practices was to increase traffic to a web site where something could be sold.  The web site had to be capable of retaining a visitor’s interest and doing the sale.


Now, spammers can use targeted, search engine advertising to make money from sites that contain no information, essentially no design, and have no viewer attraction or sales capability of their own.  (See The Redundancy Explosion.)  Search engines have little motivation to stop advertising on spam sites since they actually make more money per visitor from a spam site than from a higher quality site. 


This situation drastically reduces the requirements that have to be satisfied by the spam site.  The spam site can be completely dedicated to gaming the search engines while devoting virtually no effort or design aspect to human viewers.


Solutions to the spam problem will also require increasingly invasive tracking of individual users.


Public Relations:  Many search users are unaware of the increasing degree to which their every move could be tracked on a minute-by-minute and page-by-page basis when using search engines.  Government demands for search engine data are increasing public awareness.  Government use of search engines as part of a spying program could undermine public confidence in search engines.  Increasing public awareness of these issues could cause a migration to other information venues.


Editorial Search:  Most search engine users think they are getting uncensored and unbiased access to Internet information and are unaware that search engines are editorial entities that can and do censor, bias, edit, or otherwise restrict access by their users to Internet data. If the user community begins to see search as an editorial function, they will likely begin choosing search engines based on their editorial preferences. This could favor deployment of search services operated by well respected editorial entities such as Fox News and the New York Times that would then compete with the existing major trio.


Legal Issues:  Legal challenges could interfere with search engines ability to arbitrarily censor or suppress their user’s access to specific Internet information while continuing to avoid any responsibility for the content of the remaining information.


Net Neutrality: Cable companies, telcos, and other Internet service providers are lobbying for rule changes that would allow them to block or restrict access by their users to individual, arbitrarily hand-picked web sites and other Internet destinations.  If successful, major search engines would be an obvious first choice for restriction.  ISPs could charge search engines additional fees in return for unrestricted access by the ISP's users or replace major search engines with their own search services.  Search engines will have difficulty fighting for ISP net neutrality when simultaneously fighting against any restriction on their own right to censor or restrict access by their users to arbitrarily hand-picked web sites.


See Impact of Search Engine Editorial Policies for more information.

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