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Search neutrality?

Nowadays you will find that there is hardly a day that goes by in which google is not in the media spotlight. Topics having to do with Google are limitless.

In today’s New York times, Op-Ed Contributor Adam Raff, a co-founder of Foundem, an Internet technology firm, is asking people to demand that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) work toward “search neutrality.” The premise of his argument is that in order to ensure equal access to the infrastructure of the Internet, FCC needs to impose regulations not only on Internet service providers but also on search engine companies. Raff points out:

Today, search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s new Bing have become the Internet’s gatekeepers, and the crucial role they play in directing users to Web sites means they are now as essential a component of its infrastructure as the physical network itself.

I think Raff is making an important argument here: search engines are a key part of the Internet’s infrastructure. When we consider search engines as infrastructure it puts the Internet into a public utility dimension like electricity, telephone etc. If that’s the case, then the public has a right to input into how search engines should work. I don’t think there is any neutral search engine (sponsored links anyone?!) but it’s worthwhile to think about search engine as public infrastructure.

Currently Google controls over 70% of the search market and over 95% of Google’s revenue comes from ad revenue. So it’s clear that search results are not all about relevancy but are related to how Google can generate more profit through the placement of ads. If search engines were part of the public Internet infrastructure, then what would it look like? Can we find a model somewhere? How about libraries as a model?

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