Thursday, July 13, 2006

Google regulation in Germany?

One idea that's been discussed and repelled here before is that search engines are important actors in cyberspace and that Google has in some markets a dominant position - does this mean therefore that it should have legal duties to the public eg, not to censor, or to list all sites, or to ue a certain algorithm for listing?

A German search engine conference has some interesting recent comments.(via The Register)

"German experts at a Berlin seminar this week argued that search engines need to be more regulated. They want companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! to exercise editorial control over their search results and filter out sites with x-rated content or that glorify aggression.
"Mechanisms have to be developed to deal with illegal content and to protect children online," Marcel Machill, a lecturer in journalism at Germany's Leipzig and Dortmund universities, told the Search Engine Workshop run by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation this week."

Google and other search engines can however argue that they offer a safe search option voluntarily - though of course this can be turned off by the user. And it is well known that Google already do block listings which violate local law in (at least) China, France and Germany. But another speaker argued that a "voluntary obligation" is nothing more than a "weak regulation without any sanctions".

More interestingly perhaps though -

"Machill is also clearly troubled by the strong market position of some of the search engines. Google already accounts for 90 per cent of German web searches. In the classic media sector this kind of concentration would be absurd, he says.
"It is important not to let this power develop unnoticed." Machill hopes that Germany will establish a public corporation to build its own search engine with "editorial responsibility" to compete with Google."

Building a national search engine will be a preferable response to regulation of the private sector for many economists and regulators. But national attempts to build search engines (a French effort was documented here a while back) seem inevitably to lag behind market driven efforts Vive la capitalisme!


Thomas Otter said...

V interesting point on the monopoly, hadn't thought of that. Google has a bigger share of the search market than De Beers does of the diamond industry...yet..

It is easy to forget that the basic foundations of the Internet came from the public sector.(Darpa and then Cern, where TBL invented the www bit)

For european governments to develop stronger competition, they need to do two things.

1. Invest in pure R&D. invention comes from unintended consequences more often than not.

2. Provide a better environment for startups to grow and exploit the R&D.

The cultural and political implications of search do need greater attention. I'm not sure that it is something that should be left entirely the "market" i.e. two blokes who argue about how the inside of their 737 should be painted...

Lilian Edwards said...

My own view is that at the moment there is an argument for regulation of search; but it is probably a blip period which will pass when competitors catch up with google and there will never be the political will to regulate it in the US.