Germany wants Google to give up its secret search sauce

A German minister has called on Google to reveal details of its search algorithm to address concerns about its dominance of the European market.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

To address Google's "exceptional" power in Europe, Germany's justice minister Heiko Maas has called on the search company to reveal how it creates search engine rankings.

As Google and the European Commission go back to the drawing board over the company's controversial European antitrust proposal, Maas wants Google to give up a far bigger concession, telling the Financial Times Google had to become more "transparent" about its highly secret algorithm that underpins its search engine rankings.

Chances that Google will ever reveal any details of its secret search sauce to regulators and competitors is close to zero, but Maas said it was necessary to address Google's "exceptional" and "extraordinary" power in Europe over both consumers and market operators.

"When a search engine has such an impact on economic development, this is an issue we have to address," he told the Financial Times.

Google handles around 70 percent of web searches in the US, whereas in Germany and France it's closer to 95 percent, according to StatCounter. Comscore meanwhile estimated in February Google had about 75 percent of the overall European search market.

The most contentious aspect of Google's ongoing run-in with European competition regulators is the way it favours its own vertical search services. While earlier this year it seemed that Google's proposals to address the EC's concerns on that score would be accepted, the Commission has now asked Google to improve its suggested remedies. A further threat on the horizon for Google is a potential European investigation into Android, following complaints about Google's Play app store and the bundling of key Google apps with the free OS.

Maas, who is responsible for consumer protection in Germany, said that Europeans should not be afraid of Google as Mahia Döpfner, CEO of Germany publisher Axel Springer, said earlier this year. However the minister believes that Google's dominance in search allows it to unfairly promote its own business interests.

Maas also said that breaking up Google would be a "last resort", but that it is too early to begin considering such a move.

Google said in a statement: "This question has been scrutinised for a total of eight years in the US and Europe, and regulators have found that we don't use our algorithms to target competitors. Making our algorithms available for everyone to see sounds simple, but it would let spammers, sites with malware, and low-quality websites game our system, which hurts our users."

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