Search Engine Bias Article

By Eric Goldman

Search engines ranking algorithms create winners and losers, and some people don’t like this system. Obviously the losers don’t like it (see the KinderStart v. Google lawsuit as an example). More importantly, commentators with normative views about what constitutes “good” search results routinely advocate regulating the search engine ranking process in a way that advances their normative objectives.

I’ve now posted my latest thoughts on this topic in an article entitled “Search Engine Bias and the Demise of Search Engine Utopianism.” It’s coming out later this spring in the Yale Journal of Law and Technology. Regular blog readers won’t be surprised that I come out swinging against the pro-regulatory forces who think they can do a better job shaping search results than search engines can do without regulatory “help.” I welcome your comments.

The abstract:

“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. Instead, this Essay argues that search engine bias is the beneficial consequence of search engines optimizing content for their users. The Essay further argues that the most problematic aspect of search engine bias, the “winner-take-all” effect caused by top placement in search results, will be mooted by emerging personalized search technology.”

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