To Break Google’s Monopoly On Search, Make Its Index Public

Robert Epstein, an American psychologist, professor, author and journalist critical of Google, argues that Google’s monopoly on search can be broken by making its index public. An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from the report via Bloomberg: Different tech companies pose different kinds of threats. I’m focused here on Google, which I’ve been studying for more than six years through both experimental research and monitoring projects. (Google is well aware of my work and not entirely happy with me. The company did not respond to requests for comment.) Google is especially worrisome because it has maintained an unopposed monopoly on search worldwide for nearly a decade. It controls 92 percent of search, with the next largest competitor, Microsoft’s Bing, drawing only 2.5%. Fortunately, there is a simple way to end the company’s monopoly without breaking up its search engine, and that is to turn its “index” — the mammoth and ever-growing database it maintains of internet content — into a kind of public commons.

Doesn’t Google already share its index with everyone in the world? Yes, but only for single searches. I’m talking about requiring Google to share its entire index with outside entities — businesses, nonprofit organizations, even individuals — through what programmers call an application programming interface, or API. Google already allows this kind of sharing with a chosen few, most notably a small but ingenious company called Startpage, which is based in the Netherlands. In 2009, Google granted Startpage access to its index in return for fees generated by ads placed near Startpage search results. With access to Google’s index — the most extensive in the world, by far — Startpage gives you great search results, but with a difference. Google tracks your searches and also monitors you in other ways, so it gives you personalized results. Startpage doesn’t track you — it respects and guarantees your privacy — so it gives you generic results. Some people like customized results; others treasure their privacy. In closing, Epstein writes that dozens of Startpage variants would turn up within months of opening up access to Google’s index. “Many would target niche audiences — some small, perhaps, like high-end shoppers, and some huge, like all the world’s women, and most of these platforms would do a better job of serving their constituencies than Google ever could,” he writes.

“These aren’t just alternatives to Google, they are competitors — thousands of search platforms, each with its special focus and emphasis, each drawing on different subsets of information from Google’s ever-expanding index, and each using different rules to decide how to organize the search results they display. Different platforms would likely have different business models, too, and business models that have never been tried before would quickly be tested.”

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