'Don't be evil' code exposes Google's Plus bias

Google has started showing links to "People and Pages on Google+" with search results, favouring results from its own social network while ignoring more relevant links from rival social networks. This is not only bad for users, it could be even worse for Google.

Google has started showing links to "People and Pages on Google+" with search results, favouring results from its own social network while ignoring more relevant links from rival social networks. This is not only bad for users, it could be even worse for Google. It lays the company open to further accusations that it is abusing its monopoly market share of web search to promote its own product to the disadvantage of other social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. This could lead to government anti-trust action.

A group called "Focus on the User" (FotU) has now created a video (below) that exposes the extent of Google's bias. FotU also offers an open source "Don't be evil" bookmarklet that demonstrably offers better results while using only Google's own rankings and search results. The group's ironical name is taken from the Number 1 item in Google's corporate philosophy: "Focus on the user and all else will follow."

FotU says the "proof of concept" bookmarklet code "was built by some engineers at Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, in consultation with several other social networking companies". It uses Google's own search results for Google+, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Quora, Tumblr, Foursquare, Crunchbase, FriendFeed, Stack Overflow, and Github.

One of FotU's examples is television chef Jamie Oliver, who comes up in a search for cooking. Google provides a link to Oliver's G+ profile, which has not been updated for two months. Google's own native search results show that Twitter is a better social network result, since it was updated this weekend and has ten times more followers than Oliver's G+ page. The bookmarklet simply replaces Google's gratuitous G+ plugs with Google's own organic search results.

An incidental benefit is that the bookmarklet shows profile pics with Twitter and LinkedIn results. Google's search shows profile pics with G+ results, but -- for whatever reason -- doesn't show them with Twitter and LinkedIn results. (Why not?)

Unfortunately, the bookmarklet cannot fix the major flaw, which is that 800+ million people who have Facebook or Twitter accounts will never show up because they do not have G+ pages. This is the worst result of Google's bias.

FotU's video shows the Jamie Oliver problem also afflicts companies such as AT&T, where the G+ link is inserted within the organic search results, rather than on the right where adverts usually appear. It also affects the results in search menu drop-downs (from Google Instant's autocomplete feature), where G+ also gets gratuitous promotion.

One of the things that FotU's code makes clear is that Google's search engine already has all the information that it needs to display unbiased results. Google doesn't need to sign any search deals with Twitter, Facebook etc. It doesn't need to scrape any pages. The bookmarklet shows that Google could do a much better job using the data it already has.

The other thing that made clear is that by promoting G+ pages, Google is not showing the best information it has, according to its own criteria. Google is, provably, choosing to highlight what Google itself considers to be inferior results.

If not actually evil (as in "Don't be evil"), this is a betrayal of trust.

People use Google because they expect it to link to the best information it can get. At the very least, the G+ selection should be labelled as either Promotional links or, preferably, as Advertisements. The'd still be inferior results, but their purpose would be clear.

@jackschofield

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cx3-idYfY_o Focus on the User

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