Google’s Search Your World: Internet Antitrust or Not?

Do you ever feel like Google and Facebook are engaged in some sort of old-time duel? The two mega-corps in a stand-off — reflexes sharp, steely eyed, just waiting for the other to draw first, all the while knowing that the victor wins the Internet. Well, it looks like Google may have reached for the trigger earlier this month when they announced Search, Plus Your World – a new initiative that incorporates material from Google’s new-ish social networking platform, Plus, into search engine results. The news was met with a lot of “concern” from both the lawyer-verse and the Twitter-verse. People questioned: “Is SPYW a blatant example of Internet antitrust in action? What about the online privacy implications?”

Technically, the answers to the two above questions, right now, are “no” and “too early to tell” – but that doesn’t mean Google isn’t taking a bold step that could significantly impact Internet activity. It may even lead to a few statute-testing Internet antitrust law cases.

What Is Google’s Search, Plus Your World?

“Search is still limited to a universe of webpages created publicly,” Google’s announcement read, “mostly by people you’ve never met. Today, we’re changing that by bringing your world, rich with people and information, into search.”
And so began, SPYW.

In the simplest terms, Google’s new tweak will incorporate data from their new social networking platform, Google+, into search returns. For example, let’s say you do a Google search for “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo review”. Those using SPYW will see posts and/or blog entries from people connected to them, through Google+, near the top of their SERP (search engine result page).

The news went viral quickly; folks were a little stunned to learn that the “social” web might finally be merging with the “searching” web; the outspoken natives, however, were not smiling, because Google’s new program could prove to be a legal quagmire – and the end result, some worry, could lead to online privacy problems.

Does Search Plus Your World Qualify As Internet Antitrust?

When SPYW hit the scene, people immediately began questioning whether the move would trigger anti-trust lawsuit between Google and Facebook. The answer, so far as we can tell now, there is no anti-trust issue with Google’s recent search capabilities – at least when it comes to Facebook.

Since Facebook has not made the majority of what happens on Facebook available to search engines, Google is not technically impinging on their rights. That doesn’t mean there isn’t concern. As Mark A. Lemley of Stanford Law put it, “There is a lot of concern on various fronts about Google favoring Google in its own search results, and I think this will add to that concern.”

Twitter’s Response to Search plus Your World

The day that SPYW broke, Twitter had a statement ready. Essentially, they argued that Twitter has emerged as the breaking news platform of the 21st century and expressed concerns that pushing results from their site further down the SERPS could make it harder for users to find the most relevant, timely news.

Alex Macgillivray, Twitter’s general counsel on policy, trust and safety summed his company’s reaction succinctly, “It was a bad day for the Internet.”

The Online Privacy Pickle

The thing, you, as an average Internet user, might be most concerned about, though, is your privacy. Think about it – do you really want every little thing you say on Google+ showing up in your friends’ search results? If yes, may I suggest you start being very careful about what you post online – especially pictures.

Over the next few months, we’ll see if any high-profile Internet law cases emerge as a result of Google+, Search Your World. To keep up with the news, be sure to smack your email on the Kelly Law Firm’s Internet law newsletter.

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