Government // Mobile & Wireless
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12/20/2011
08:47 AM
Art Wittmann
Art Wittmann
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Google Want To Google Get On Google's Tech Google News Google Page? Put Google In Your Google Headline

My unscientific research reveals Google likes stories about itself and Google products. While I took it lightheartedly, the U.S. government is more concerned.

If you were to base your opinion on the frequency a topic makes headlines in top tech news and news aggregation sites, you'd think that choosing a smartphone is by far the most critical decision facing IT. But then, you'd also surely believe that Apple is more important than IBM, Intel, Oracle, SAP, Dell, Symantec, and pretty much every other tech company you can think of ... combined. We of course understand what's going on here. News sites -- ours included -- run stories that they believe will get read. And often enough, the story that'll get read the most won't have a heck of a lot to do with anyone's core mission.

I'm not a frequent reader of general-audience tech pages, but at this time of year, enterprise IT news slows down, so I have a chance to spend some time perusing these sites. I'm not surprised and certainly not complaining that these sites primarily talk about consumer electronics; after all, I just got done grousing about a lack of goings-on in the enterprise space, and with the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas coming just a few days after the Iowa caucuses, it makes sense that this is where the buzz is.

What did surprise me after a few days of reading these sites fairly regularly is what appears to be a bias on Google's tech news page for stories that talk about the company's products. So I did a quick, unscientific, totally indefensible survey of a few sites, totaling up the number of stories that mentioned Google or Android in a headline or summary. Here's what I got: Yahoo: 1; Bing: 3; WSJ/Tech: 0; Google: 6.

Those six stories on the Google tech news page represented about a quarter of the stories listed there. I only counted once, but the trend was noticeable throughout the day.

Now, I have no idea if humans or algorithms or some combination of the two pick Google's stories (probably a combination). But however it happens, there seems to be a bias. It's a good reminder that depending on just one source for any type of news is a dangerous thing. Just as you might detect a bit of an editorial slant from MSNBC or Fox News, other sources aren't balanced as they might be, either.

For their parts, Senators Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) are concerned enough about the apparent bias in Google search to request that the FTC look into the matter. The two senators are, respectively, chairman and ranking member of the antitrust subcommittee of the Senate's judiciary committee. Their letter to FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz cites the importance of the Internet to the American economy, and of search engines to the use of the Internet. It also cites Google's near monopoly in Internet search.

The two senators are requesting a full inquiry into Google's apparent practice of surfacing information on its secondary products more frequently than for competing products. The letter cites the substantial change in Google's business model since it made its IPO in 2004. Then, the search giant was just that, a search-only company. Now it plays in everything from phones to product search to maps to YouTube -- and has more skin in the game of getting IT pros' eyeballs on stories about its products.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Reports, a portfolio of decision-support tools and research reports. You can write to him at awittmann@techweb.com.

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

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