Searching for trust

Have you googled Google in Google News recently?

The US government has filed antitrust charges against GoogleThe Verge
“Countless advertisers must pay a toll to Google’s search advertising and general search text advertising monopolies,” the complaint reads, “American consumers are forced to accept Google’s policies, privacy practices, and use of personal data; and new companies with innovative business models cannot emerge from Google’s long shadow.”

It might not be that big a deal, though.

American trustbusters take on GoogleThe Economist
The sums involved are large but the charges are narrow, argues Mark Shmulik of Bernstein, a research firm. They cover only text search, not images or video. Fiona Scott Morton of Yale University, an antitrust expert critical of Google (and an adviser to Apple), notes that the suit does not tackle allegations that Google abuses its market power in digital advertising or the claims that it handicaps potential rivals in specialised searches such as travel.

Obviously Google won’t take this lying down.

Justice Dept. files landmark antitrust case against GoogleAP News
Google vowed to defend itself and responded immediately via tweet: “Today’s lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed. People use Google because they choose to — not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives.”

But how much of a choice do we really have?

It’s Google’s World. We Just Live in It.The New York Times
Googling something was all we once did with Google. Now we spend hours a day using its maps, videos, security cameras, email, smartphones and more.

Google’s dark patterns

Google’s being sneaky again. Last year I shared an article about research into ‘dark patterns’, sneaky user interface tricks that shopping websites use to catch us out. It seems the search advertising giant is getting in on the act now.

Google’s ads just look like search results nowThe Verge
Last week, Google began rolling out a new look for its search results on desktop, which blurs the line between organic search results and the ads that sit above them. In what appears to be something of a purposeful dark pattern, the only thing differentiating ads and search results is a small black-and-white “Ad” icon next to the former. It’s been formatted to resemble the new favicons that now appear next to the search results you care about. Early data collected by Digiday suggests that the changes may already be causing people to click on more ads.

Indeed, when I search for pet insurance, I can hardly see any real search results without scrolling down.

googles-being-sneaky-again

Google made a big change to search results that makes it harder to distinguish ads from regular results, and people are calling Google out for itBusiness Insider
This is not the first time Google has been accused of using manipulative design practices, known as “dark patterns,” to trick users into clicking on ads.

The Wall Street Journal reporter Rolfe Winkler said the Federal Trade Commission sent letters in 2013 to Google and other search engines saying the distinction between ads and organic search results had become “less noticeable to consumers.” In the letters, the FTC told the companies to “make any necessary adjustments to ensure you clearly and prominently disclose any advertising.”

I’d say those letters have been completely ignored, wouldn’t you?

Update 26/01/2020

A rethink.

Google backtracks on desktop search redesign blurring ads from organic resultsBoing Boing
Google’s recently announced new redesign of desktop search results would have made ads pretty much look exactly like search results. Google is now backtracking, listening to the criticism, and trying a different visual approach.

Google backtracks on search results designTechCrunch
The company acknowledged that its latest experiment might have gone too far in its latest statement and noted that it will “experiment further” on how it displays results.

Searching for a search engine

Here’s an odd story from The Verge about Google and user choice—or the lack of it.

Bing loses out to DuckDuckGo in Google’s new Android search engine ballotThe Verge
EU citizens setting up Android devices from March 1 will be given a choice of four search engines to use as their default, including Google. Whichever provider they chose will become the default for searches made in Chrome and through Android’s home screen search box. A dedicated app for that provider will also be installed on their device.

The “choice screen” is being introduced by Google following an antitrust ruling from the European Union last March. Google was fined a record $5 billion by EU regulators, who said the company had to stop “illegally tying” its search engine and browser to its mobile OS.

That all sounds fair enough, but the mechanism by which the other search providers are selected is far from straightforward.

The search engines shown to new users will vary for each EU country, with the selection decided based on a “fourth-price” auction system. Each provider tells Google how much it’s willing to pay the company every time a user selects their product as the default. […]

All this means that the choices Google will show to users don’t necessarily reflect a search engine’s popularity in that country. Rather, it shows how much the provider is willing to pay for users.

Needless to say, some of Google’s rivals aren’t happy.

Eric Leandri, CEO of privacy-focused search engine Qwant, said it was a “total abuse of [Google’s] dominant position” to “ask for cash just for showing a proposal of alternatives.” Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of DuckDuckGo, said the auction system was a “pay-to-play auction” that meant “Google will profit at the expense of the competition.” The CEO of Ecosia, a search engine that uses its profits to plans trees, boycotted the auction entirely.

What a shame that the more interesting options like Qwant and Ecosia aren’t getting a look-in. From the article’s list of all the options for users in each EU country, I can see that for the UK the options are: Bing, DuckDuckGo and Info.com. Sorry, who?

Update 15/01/2020

Someone else asking that question.

What is info.com, the search engine soon to appear on all Android devices in Europe?Quartz
Info.com, or InfoSpace, is an online search company and one-time internet darling. It was founded in 1996 in Seattle and backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. InfoSpace went public in December 1998, at the height of the dot-com bubble. By March 2000, it was valued roughly on par with Boeing, at $31 billion. Not long after that, the bubble burst and InfoSpace’s stock price collapsed. “The company once worth more than Boeing fell to the value of two Boeing 777s,” quipped the Seattle Times.

Google Chrome’s hidden treats

I wasn’t expecting much from this article, to be honest, with its click-baity headline—just filler about keyboard shortcuts and pinned tabs. But I was pleasantly surprised by how useful this  create-your-own-search-engine tip was.

How to use Google Chrome like a proWired UK
With a few tweaks you can also search your email or Google Drive directly from the search bar. To do this you have to create a new search engine in Chrome – it’s not as complex as it sounds. Right click in the Omnibox and select ‘edit search engines’. Scroll to ‘other search engines’ and click on add. Here you enter the name of the website you want to search, a keyword that you’ll type into Chrome’s Omnibox, and a URL. The URL should be the search result page of the service you’re setting the system up for.

I’ve just set up search engines for my gmail, calendar, onedrive and blog. Being able to quickly jump into those things directly from the search bar is quite addictive.

Here’s something else that intrigued me, though I’m not sure how much I’ll use it.

You can even use a blank tab as a one-off note taker – enter “data:text/html, <html contenteditable>” and you’ll get a quick notepad. The files won’t save, but it’s useful if you want to jot something down quickly.