Google has been a strong advocate of network neutrality, a policy that aims to prevent Internet service providers from favoring some types of content over others. The idea is to prevent any one company becoming a gatekeeper to the Internet.
The New York Times now wants to adapt that idea to ensure fairness in search-engine results. In an editorial on Thursday, the Times suggested a government commission might be needed to approve changes that Google makes to its search algorithm. The Times claims that because “Google handles nearly two-thirds of Internet search queries worldwide” the tweaks to its algorithm “can break the business of a Web site that is pushed down the rankings.”
OK, why not a government commission to approve the tweaks in the supersecret algorithm that the New York Times uses to decide which stories are important enough to cover? That’s the premise of Danny Sullivan’s creative rewriting of the Times editorial in a post at search engine land.
If that strikes the Times as an affront to its First Amendment rights, then perhaps the Times should rethink its fetish for fairness. Sullivan points out, by the way, that the U.S. Western District Court of Oklahoma ruled in 2003 that Internet page rankings constitute opinions deserving full First Amendment protection. Google was the defendant arguing the free speech side in that case. Maybe it’s time for Google to consider that Internet service providers have free speech rights, too.
Information consumers, of course, don’t care about fairness; they just want accurate information. As long as they are free to choose a different search engine, Google will have an incentive to make its algorithm serve its customers. A search-engine fairness commission, on the other hand, will be another arena for special interest lobbying that will surely short-circuit competition.