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Texas Don’t Take Kindly to Biased Google Algorithms

Greg Abbott, Texas’s politically and litigiously tenacious attorney general, has taken on Google, accusing them of unfair ranking tricks in Search. This man does not isolate his activities to matters only affecting Texans, beginning by making some noise which garners national attention. After plenty of judicial exercising as a trial judge, Texas’s highest civil court and a Bush-appointed and accoladed state supreme court justice, he has learned the system thoroughly and but a strong reputation along the way.

Under his command Texas was the first state to take on Sony over the rootkit spyware fiasco. Many others piled onto that battle and it eventually resulted in a couple victories for consumers (it had already resulted in a victory for Abbott, putting him on the map) of a settlement between Sony and the FTC, first a recall and later a $150 per customer reimbursement. Another high-profile case he took over was a fight to display a government-sponsored Ten Commandments monument in front of the Texas State Capital building in Austin. He made it to the US Supreme Court with that and won. The man’s somewhat of a technological consumer advocate with political muscle and he knows it and he enjoys using it.

Now this search manipulation beef with Google may or may not have any merit but it doesn’t have to for it to be worth his while as Google’s pretty big and they’ve made a series of high profile blunders, privacy issues mostly, that have drawn all sorts of fire around the world, making Google an easy target; and this particular complaint, this solicitation for a formal investigation or inquiry from Abbott’s buddies at the FTC, is one we hadn’t heard much chatter about before Abbott stepped into the ring, it has antitrust overtones to it and there is already legal momentum behind it that Groklaw ties directly to Microsoft’s financial puppet strings.

Google’s response:

We’ve recently been approached by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office, which is conducting an antitrust review of Google. We look forward to answering their questions because we’re confident that Google operates in the best interests of our users.

Occasionally, we’re asked about the “fairness” of our search engine — why do some websites get higher rankings than others? The important thing to remember is that we built Google to provide the most useful, relevant search results and ads for users. In other words, our focus is on users, not websites. Given that not every website can be at the top of the results, or even appear on the first page of our results, it’s unsurprising that some less relevant, lower quality websites will be unhappy with their ranking.

Google then outlines the background of the complainant players that Abbott’s office has involved itself with noting that, without explicitly identifying this as not being coincidental (which it isn’t), Microsoft’s antitrust attorneys were backing all of them. This man’s office’s interest in the matter is good news for Microsoft. But because just like this post does, the whole thing has tl;dr written all over it camouflaging a Microsoft-funded conspiracy, insulating their roll to the public from polluting the apparent innocence and righteousness behind this politician’s mission. Without this man who’s big on values, protecting kids from predators and protecting consumers from spyware, it would only be a very black pot calling a kettle black. Now that’s no longer the case making this a sharp thorn, polished both with money and politics, in Google’s side surrounded by other thorns.

This has got to be the biggest sleeper I’ve ever cranked out; thanks for managing to plow through. There’s a lot more to this than what I’ve pulled up and if you could offer anything I missed I’d especially appreciate it this time. Fun fact: Greg Abbott still uses a Google Custom Search box on his website.

Doug Simmons

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