Grimmelmann on “Search Neutrality”

By Eric Goldman

James Grimmelmann, Some Skepticism About Search Neutrality, in THE NEXT DIGITAL DECADE: ESSAYS ON THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNET (Berin Szoka & Adam Marcus, eds. 2010).

James Grimmelmann wrote a terrific must-read book chapter on search neutrality. His blog post on the chapter. The book chapter taxonomizes the various arguments that have been advanced in favor of search neutrality, and then with his characteristic pointedness, he proceeds to eviscerate each and every one as only a law professor can do. There are so many good parts to the chapter, I’m only going to cherry-pick some of my favorite quotes and present them without comment. If you like these excerpts, then as the saying goes, read the whole thing.


* “the case for search neutrality is a muddle. There is a fundamental misfit between its avowed policy goal of protecting users and most of the tests it proposes to protect them”

* “Of course Google differentiates among sites—that’s why we use it. Systematically favoring certain types of content over others isn’t a defect for a search engine—it’s the point.”

* “what difference should it make that Yahoo! and others liked Foundem? So? That’s their opinion. Google had a different one. Who is to say that Yahoo! was right and Google was wrong? One could equally well argue that Google’s low ranking was correct and Yahoo!’s high ranking was the mistake.”

* “If you want Google to steer users to websites with views that differ from their own, your goal is not properly described as search neutrality. In effect, you have gone back to asserting the objective correctness of search results”

* “Just as the subjectivity of search means that search engines will frequently disagree with each other, it also means that a search engine will disagree with itself over time.”

* “Search neutrality will be born with one foot already in the grave of regulatory capture.”


For a complementary perspective, check out Geoff Manne’s contribution to the book entitled “The Problem of Search Engines as Essential Facilities”. Plus, I have written a brief “update” to my 2006 Search Engine Bias article where I talk about how the issues have evolved in the past half-decade. I plan to post that in the near future.