Microblogging website Twitter and prominent Facebook employees have severely criticized Google’s new “Search plus Your World” (SPYW) feature, announced last week, which serves up personalized, and personal information, in user’s search results when they are logged into Google or Google+, and further, heavily favors Google and Google+ pages, while excluding Facebook and Twitter pages.
Google announced in a blog post last week that it was launching SPYW in order to provide users with search results that include personalized and more relevant information like photos on Google plus or content that was shared with other users. Google Fellow Amit Singhal, who wrote the blog post announcing SPYW, explained that the people and rich content from personal lives has so far been excluded from search, and is: “still limited to a universe of webpages created publicly, mostly by people you’ve never met. Today we’re changing that by bringing your world, rich with people and information, into search.”
Singhal explains three new features are to be ushered in by SPYW: Personal Results that only the user will see which will provide photos from Google+, individual posts or those shared with them, Profiles in Search in results and auto complete to help users find people they are interested in, and finally People and Pages so you can find relevant pages. Before providing more detail about these new features, Singhal concludes happily: “Together these features combine to create Search plus Your World. Search is simply better with your world in it and we’re just getting started.”
Others are not so happy. In the short time since SPYW was announced it has been the subject of loud and scathing criticism, with Twitter being the most vocal in slamming the search engine giant, and Marc Rotenberg indicating EPIC may file a formal letter of complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Rotenberg is executive chairman of the Electronic Privacy Information Commission (EPIC), the organization which filed a previous complaint with the FTC against Google, and which resulted in Google agreeing to submit to external audits on its privacy practices every other year for the next 20 years. Regarding Google’s new SPYW feature, Rotenberg said: “We believe this is something the FTC needs to look at.” Facebook has not officially commented on SPYW but prominent employees have not been shy about criticizing it in very public ways.
Twitter, Facebook employees, and others charge that Google is using its dominant position in search – it accounts for about two thirds of search queries in the United States – to shut out competitors by pushing down or even excluding them from the search results, and worse, drives users through its search results, to its own pages, products and services, even when a user is not logged in.
SearchEngineLand described in detail how if the subject of your search, for example Britney Spears, is on Google+, Facebook and Twitter, a search on her name suggests only Google+, even though Miss Spears mentions her Facebook and Twitter accounts on her Google+ page. Further, if the subject of a user’s search is not on Google+, they are not served up as a suggestion at all, as is the case with pop singer Katy Perry, who boasts 40 million followers on Facebook, making her one of the most popular Facebook pages at the moment.
Twitter General Councel Alex Macgillivray, who used to work at Google, tweeted this blunt assessment on January 11th, the day after SPYW was announced: “Bad day for the internet, having been there, I can imagine the dissension @Google to search being warped this way”, with a link to a critical post by John Battelle at SearchBlog pointedly titled “Search plus your world, as long as it’s our world.”
Battelle noted in his critical piece that Google has failed to come to an agreement with both Facebook and Twitter, and said it is bad for the internet community, our culture, and sad that there is not a “shared public commons when it comes to the intersection of search and social”
Battelle lamented: “Remember when Google used to be a neutral player that crawled the whole Dem web? So sad to see that era pass. It’s not Google’s fault entirely, but it’s sad nonetheless.”