Tuesday, April 11, 2006 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Net Neutrality and Search Engine Bias

This is the way the abstact for a new Yale Journal of Law and Technology article [SSRN subscription required] entitled "Search Engine Bias and the Demise of Search Engine Utopianism" begins:

"Due to search engines' automated operations, people often assume that search engines display search results neutrally and without bias. However, this perception is mistaken. Like any other media company, search engines affirmatively control their users' experiences, which has the consequence of skewing search results (a phenomenon called "search engine bias"). Some commentators believe that search engine bias is a defect requiring legislative correction."

I recently pointed out here that I feared inclusion of the FCC's access principles in a legislative Net Neutrality mandate ultimately would lead to FCC complaints against Google to remedy claims of search engine bias. Under the fourth access principle, which says that "consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers," it likely won't be only Google in the FCC's regulatory sights. Microsoft, Yahoo, and Amazon are likely to be subject to claims that they are abusing their dominant positions with content presentations that are not neutral and unbiased.

Please continue not to get me wrong. Like the author of the Yale article, I do not favor FCC regulation of Google and the other content providers. But once "principles" are embedded in legislation expressly giving the FCC the authority to enforce them, you can pretty much bet that--at some time with some FCC--the impulse to regulate may well prove irresistible. Indeed, Congress would appear to have told the agency to regulate. While we don't know now what the parameters of such regulation of the applications and content providers might look like when all is said and done, we know an awful lot of forests will be felled in finding out. And we can surmise we will look back ruefully--and with longing--on the days when the Internet was not regulated.

posted by Randolph May @ 4:29 PM |