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Publisher Whining Prompts Italian Investigation of Google 91

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the sounds-like-pure-unadulterated-greed-to-me dept.
Complaints about "lack of transparency" from publishers have prompted Italian competition authorities to begin an investigation of Google's search and news services. I'm sure their motives are completely altruistic. "Because Google does not disclose the criteria for ranking news articles or search results, he said, newspapers are unable to hone their content to try to earn more revenue from online advertising. Ad revenue on the Web is directly proportional to the size of the audience, which is heavily influenced by search or Google News rankings."
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Publisher Whining Prompts Italian Investigation of Google

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  • Complaints about "lack of transparency" from publishers have prompted Italian competition authorities to begin an investigation of Google's search and news services.

    Good luck in getting a bunch of bureaucrats to wrap their minds around google's ranking algorithm.

    • by Hognoxious (631665) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:41PM (#29235101) Homepage Journal
      When I read "Italian competition authorities" the last thing I thought of was bureaucrats.
      • Pagerank sleeps with the fishes?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Just one word:

          "Burlusconi"

          • by mollog (841386)
            So this is the third Slashdot article in a row that speaks of the internet and government involvement. Surely, this is a sign of the time and of an increasing trend. For better or worse, citizens of the 'net will be doing battle with government and politicians.
            • by Jaysyn (203771)
              That basically means everyone under 35 vs. THEM. I wouldn't like those odds if I was the politicos.
              • That basically means everyone under 35 vs. THEM. I wouldn't like those odds if I was the politicos.

                Oh, I would. "under 35" is a self-correcting flaw. You really think the 70-somethings of today weren't brimming full of ideas for righteous change 30-40 years ago?

      • by SterlingSylver (1122973) on Friday August 28, 2009 @03:31PM (#29235725)

        This sure is a nice search engine you got here. Be a shame if something were to happen to it. You know, I gots an idea, how's about you pay my boy Vinnie here 8.4 Billion Euros, and he makes sure nothin' happens to your little website. Ain't that right, Vinnie?

        • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          That movie-like situation is a thing of the past, it was history even before the first Godfather was shot. Now in Italy the Mafia IS the government, also thanks to that criminal named Berlusconi and his cohorts. They don't kill you physically anymore, rather, they slowly ruin your business, destroy your public image (if any) and credibility until you become completely irrelevant to them or kill yourself in the process.
          Most people believe that having no Mafia related shootings here in Italy during the last

    • Kind of like: good luck with judges to wrap their minds around dna profile matching? Of course: you get a few experts, they say yes or no, you follow the experts. Doesn't sound like rocket science to me.
      • Kind of like: good luck with judges to wrap their minds around dna profile matching?

        No. Kind of like: good luck with getting juries to wrap their minds around dna profile matching? Hint: OJ Simpson.

  • Give me a break. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Google provides a service. If you don't like their service, go use something else. Or better yet, build your own damn search and aggregation engine.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by amicusNYCL (1538833)

      This isn't about Italians using or not using Google. This is the Italians wondering why their news sources aren't ranked higher on Google News.

      The newspapers don't opt-in to Google News, they aren't "users" of Google News, the public are the users. The newspapers want to know, considering the fact that a lot of people use Google News, how do they get their content listed higher, and are they being unfairly discriminated against?

      But regardless of the details, this isn't a "if you don't like it use somethin

      • Stop using fancy eye catching titles to your articles if they aren't relevant. Stick to the facts & key words.

        Among other things, the Google's search algorithm is based on the text within the links to a page, the title of a page, the header text near the top of a page... News sites like to use titles that make you think "What is that article about". That is a horrible way to have Google link to your page with a high page rank.

        For example, one of the top articles on CNN.com about Kennedy's death is
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by B4D BE4T (879239)

        The newspapers are using Google as free advertising for their websites. If they want a higher spot on search results, they can always pay Google for it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Microsoft provides an office suite. If you don't like their office suite, go use something else. Or better yet, build your own dam search and aggregation engine.
      • by tagno25 (1518033)

        Microsoft provides an office suite. If you don't like their office suite, go use something else.

        And I use a competitor (OpenOffice.org), there are plenty of other options available. (Many read MS Office formats)

  • by BigGar' (411008) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:37PM (#29235049) Homepage
    I recommend they start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PageRank [wikipedia.org]
  • What a coincidence (Score:5, Informative)

    by mrtommyb (1534795) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:37PM (#29235055)
    The Prime Minister of Italy owns the largest Italian publishing house
    • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:57PM (#29235327) Homepage Journal

      "Mr. Malinconico said that in addition to the complaint against Google, the federation was also looking at other measures to try to generate more revenue from the Web"

      I'll translate that from Italian.

      "We don't think people should make money unless they share it with us, despite the fact that we have nothing to offer that anybody wants to see."

      • Italian politics (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mollog (841386)
        A big difference between Italian politics and American politics is that the corruption and self-interest is much more transparent in Italy. They aren't ashamed of it, it's part of the human condition. Only in America do a people believe that there is something akin to morality in the operation of government.
        • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Friday August 28, 2009 @03:58PM (#29236051)

          Only in America do a people believe that there is something akin to morality in the operation of government.

          I don't think that's true in either direction. First, a great deal of Americans don't believe there is anything akin to morality in the operation of government, whether they're left-wingers who think the government is the tool of imperialist-capitalist interests, conservatives who think the government is spreading hedonism and immorality via the public schools, or libertarians who don't like any operation of government at all.

          And on the flip side, a good many Europeans expect there to be something akin to morality in the operation of government. Italy is not representative of most of Europe, and places like Sweden have very different expectations from their government, which are more positive on the whole, even if there is still plenty of cynicism about politicians.

        • by nortcele (186941)
          Government should be by the people and for the people. Granted that is an ideal, but it should always be the goal. Citizens who cease striving to rid government of corruption and just put up with it are selling themselves short. They deserve better. Citizens of Illinois and Italy have put up with corruption for way too long. Economic downturns have a way of helping people grow weary of corruption and dealing with it.
          • by pete6677 (681676)

            This makes a lot of sense, as Chicago has a huge Italian immigrant population. No wonder this city has always had an unlimited tolerance for corruption.

    • by ampsicora (145573)

      The Prime Minister of Italy owns the largest Italian publishing house

      He doesn't just own a lot of the media but also the biggest advertising company, Mediaset. In fact, there was also a similar lawsuit against youtube.

      The prime minister and his lawyer posse has been quite active. They just sued a rival newspaper for asking questions that he deemed libelous: (in italian) http://www.repubblica.it/2009/08/sezioni/politica/berlusconi-divorzio-22/causa-domande/causa-domande.html

    • by Dan B. (20610)

      The Prime Minister of Italy owns the largest Italian publishing house

      You're spot on.

      Unfortunately there are no laws or legal reason in some countires (I'm looking at you USA) why politicians can not hold an entire countries stock of media related buiness and not control the media related decisions of the government.

      Another example would be a person, say the Defense Secretary, owning 8% of a defence contracting company like, say Haliburton, and then miraculously awarding them contracts to the tune of $2bn per annum.

      Berlisconi clearly believes that as the PM of Italy, his ties

  • Uh-huh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by G33kGuy (1152863) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:37PM (#29235063) Homepage
    "Because Google does not disclose the criteria for ranking news articles or search results, he said, newspapers are unable to hone their content to try to earn more revenue from online advertising." As in, they want to change their pages to artificially inflate their page rank, regardless of relevance to what people are searching for.
    • >>>they want to change their pages to artificially inflate their page rank

      You beat me to it, and said what I was thinking. I would also add - Isn't "Google does not disclose the criteria for ranking results" generally a good thing??? That means NOBODY can game the system, so it's an equal opportunity for all publishers. And even if somebody does get a high ranking, it's only temporary because Google is constantly changing their methodology.

      Only in Italy would somebody think it's okay to cheat.

      • by Hucko (998827)

        Nobody but Google. Let us ponder the implications of this... Now take into consideration the actions of the two parties and their motivations to do so...

        Ahh... I declare Google innocent. *head explode*

    • by rts008 (812749)

      That is exactly what I was thinking when I RTFA. (yeah, yeah, I know...and no, I'm not new here)

      The other statement that jumped out at me from TFA, was this:

      Publishers in a number of countries have complained about Google News, saying few readers bother to click through from the blurbs to their own Web sites.

      "live by the sword, die by the sword" seems to apply here.

      They (news media) have been playing games with soundbites for long enough, now that's what most people are used to.
      The blurbs give them that soundbite summary that they have been trained to expect...why would you expect them to actually click on the link to actually RTFA?

      You see it here on /. ev

    • simple (Score:2, Funny)

      by jd2112 (1535857)
      Just incorporate the word 'boobies' into the title of all articles.
  • Quid pro quo... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by argent (18001) <peter@nospAM.slashdot.2006.taronga.com> on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:38PM (#29235067) Homepage Journal

    Are the newspapers going to provide similar transparency for the coverage they provide local businesses?

  • Can't they just throw a few bucks at the SEO scumbags and call it a day?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    To relate the facts surrounding each news story in the best way possible. After a while, people will seek them out.

  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:41PM (#29235105)

    newspapers are unable to hone their content to try to earn more revenue from online advertising.

    This is exactly the way it should be. You shouldn't write news in order to garner more ad revenue. By keeping this secret, Google is doing it's part to protect the integrity of those hacks who would alter the news -- otherwise known as Selling Out -- to be whatever paid the best. When that happens then we've all lost -- including the newspapers that will become nothing more than the new Tabloid Press.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shagg (99693)

      Yeah, how dare Google hide the rules so that they can't "game" the system. I'm surprised the newspapers could even complain about it with a straight face.

    • Actually, I'm pretty damned sure that's how the newspaper industry works...

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I don't know; if the newspaper's purpose is to make money and they are able to maximize their money making ability, then it sounds like a win for them. Do papers print tabloid stories because people want them or do people want papers because they print tabloid stories? If you don't print these stories, less people buy your paper and you go under. If you do print these stories, you are a sell out but you survive. I think when push comes to shove most people will choose survival.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        So what you're saying is that newspapers should write the things that people want to read?

        Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.

        Source [google.com]

        I don't know how much more succinctly Google can state that.

    • The problem isn't just news. If people know enough about Google's criteria to satisfy these news organizations, Google's search results will be less useful. There are a lot of people out there who would use knowledge of Google's page rank system to turn up in my searches even when they have nothing to do with what I am looking for. I already run into this when I can't remember the correct "industry"** term for what I am looking for.


      **With "industry" meaning whatever industry is relevant to the particular
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MRe_nl (306212)

      Newspapers have suffered badly since the collapse of their previous business model of selling readers to advertisers on a local monopoly basis. The replacement models appear to involve phlogiston, caloric and luminiferous aether.

      "We have to educate people that free doesn't work, particularly for us," said Vanessa Thorpe of the Guardian Media Group. "I tried an advertorial repeating several times that nothing will be free any more, to magic it into happening. I also subtly implied the Pirate Bay were Nazis -

  • That's the point (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:43PM (#29235133)

    "Because Google does not disclose the criteria for ranking news articles or search results, he said, newspapers are unable to hone their content to try to earn more revenue from online advertising."

    This is exactly why Google will never disclose their raking criteria. The last thing they want is for people to 'hone' their content to drive per-site revenue. It's bad enough they have to worry about SEO companies trying to game the system. Exposing the ranking system would effectively invalidate it. You go down that path and people stop trusting the neutrality of the search engine. At which point Google might as well close up shop as an untrusted search engine is an unused search engine. Just ask Microsoft.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mollog (841386)
      "...an untrusted search engine is an unused search engine. Just ask Microsoft."

      LOL, I was already thinking of Microsoft's failures while reading your response when I read that line. Too funny.

      I think this might turn out to be why Microsoft will never be competitive with Google; the whole trust thing. Even if a person or company does not have any history with Microsoft, they'll quickly come to realize that you have to pay to play with Microsoft. And there goes credibility.
  • by 101010_or_0x2A (1001372) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:48PM (#29235203)
    it is a free web based service. they are not required to publish anything regarding their algorithm, let alone making it understandable by non CS folk. Google search does not ship with any OS, nor does it insert itself as the default search engine, browsers do that. If people dont like it, use Bing or whatever. The argument of * most people *choose* to use Google, they need not * therefore Google must supply all necessary informtion that we ask of them so that we can tune our product to rank higher makes no sense, and I wonder if any law can uphold this. The "Italian competition authorities" will have a tough time justifying how a free service with no coersion of any sort to force a user to use their product can be anti-competitive
    • by Jaysyn (203771)
      And they'd have an even harder time actually enforcing it.
    • I think in this particular case, the publishers are accusing Google of using their monopoly in search to obtain one in news aggregation. When you opt out of news aggregation, they claim that Google 'opts them out' of search. So, what they are claiming is that Google is gaming the pagerank algorithm to their own ends, something that can be checked by auditors.

      Google has a de facto monopoly in search. Realistically, no business can afford to be blacklisted by Google. That this is due to quality (and inerti

  • by clone53421 (1310749) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:56PM (#29235319) Journal

    Google ranks pages based on what people are searching for. The obvious way to get pagehits from Google is to, ahem, write news that people are interested in.

    Anything else and you're just trying to game the system.

    • There's also an algorithm that will rank things by relevance to your search, what the tags are on the link, such and such.

      For example, if you search "NEWS"
      the word News is the only tag it searches for, thus whoever has the most page hits gets it. You'll notice, Google news is not #1. So they aren't cheating.

      If you type, "Canada News"
      Now it searches for something with Canada as a High Relevance point, with slightly less on the News Point, but both. Those Web sites whose tags are "Canada, News, ..." in that o

      • How Relevancy is derived for both the Search String and the Tags is unreleased - thus News Sites don't know how to Tag their sites for maximum relevancy.

        Logically.

    • by bloodhawk (813939)
      The system is already well and truly gamed. The best way at the moment is not to write the best news but to hire professional web companies that specialise in ensuring your pages are in the top hits. I could understand if google were actually making a good effort at preventing such gaming but they aren't.
  • " Ad revenue on the Web is directly proportional to the size of the audience"

    That would only be true if every ad was the same price. Even ads that use different metrics vary inside their own class. Ads that are sold on a PPV (pay per view) vary - so do ads sold on a PPC or PPA (pay per click, pay per action) basis. Then there's the value based on the site.

    Just one more example of how the dead-tree crowd still, after almost 2 decades, doesn't get it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 28, 2009 @03:15PM (#29235551)

    Not sure why I still bother reading Slashdot (less and less often), with such biased summaries. If you actually take the time to read the original article (and maybe read the story from other sources as well), you'll find out that the main complaint of the italian publishers is NOT that the PageRank algorhitm is secret.

    They accuse Google of dropping them out of their search results (or at least lowering their pagerank) if they ask Google to remove their articles from Google News. So the accusation is abuse of a dominant position.

    Basically they find Google News to compete with them, because it takes the news from them (for free), readers don't bother clicking the link to read the full original article, so when a reader clicks on an ad, the revenue stays with Google and not the original publisher. So far, fair enough (?). The problem (and the core of the accusation) is that the publishers suspect that when they ask Google to not include their articles in Google News, Google also removes them from their normal search results (or lowers them in PageRank). Google denies this.

    The core of the problem is that Google, starting from a role of search engine, is now starting to compete with its own customers, by entering their market. And it is using its dominant position in the search market to get an advantage.

    Another example is in Australia, where the two main real estate listing web sites (Domain and RealEstate) have threatened to cancel all their advertising on Google, when they heard that Google was planning to launch its own real estate listing aggregation service. The story is here: http://www.businessday.com.au/small-business/smallbiz-marketing/google-faces-property-ads-war-20090727-dy0j.html

    Other countries (quoted in the same article on the NY Times) are seeing their publishers up in arms against Google.

    Slashdot, get some decent editors.

    • by joaobranco (55662)

      They accuse Google of dropping them out of their search results (or at least lowering their pagerank) if they ask Google to remove their articles from Google News. So the accusation is abuse of a dominant position.

      As far as the newspapers are concerned, news search and web search are separate business, but I doubt google should be forced to folllow the same definition. Abuse of dominant position requires one to have monopoly power (granted, google has it on web search and plausibly also on news search) but also deliberately using that power to somehow hinder competitors. I am not sure that google should be required to keep newspapers on one index while removing it from other or to prevent changes on one index to be r

    • by exley (221867)

      Not sure why I still bother reading Slashdot (less and less often), with such biased summaries.

      Fully agreed on that one. If I had to pick the one thing that annoys me the most about Slashdot these days, it's the constant editorializing in the summaries. Tends to happen with some "editors" more often than others, but I won't name names.

      Seriously though, leave the commentary to the ensuing discussions where it belongs. And if you can't do that, then at least change the site's tagline to "Opinion for nerds. Stuff that matters to people who've already decided."

    • by Seakip18 (1106315)

      I assume you're argument is that Google has every right to ads on the page going to the news, but nothing more. The problem at hand shows that Google has gotten so good at aggregating the meta-data about any topic that they can actually use that to the aggregate the data itself, whether it be news, real estate, restaurants etc.

      Think about it:
      Google already knows search patterns of people searching for travel plans and airfare. They're in a good position to start using that information to find the cheapest f

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rawr_one (1474675)

      I suspect this to be a consequence of Google's PageRank algorithm itself, though. Or, at least, part of it. The part that makes links from high PageRank sites bump up your own PageRank, specifically. You can't expect to demand Google (a site with high PageRank) to not link to your content and expect your PageRank to stay the same.

      What they want is for Google to boost their PageRank to where it would be with the Google linklove, without wanting Google's linklove. Which seems like a perfectly unreasonable

      • by joaobranco (55662)

        What they want is for Google to boost their PageRank to where it would be with the Google linklove, without wanting Google's linklove. Which seems like a perfectly unreasonable demand to me.

        Precisely. And that doesn't even assume that google probably trusts more the link data it gets from its own sites (which it controls) over the one from the public at large (therefore again boosting web search rank for the sites that are cited in google news or indeed, any google generated content...

      • by Ifni (545998)

        Even more relevant is that I suspect a not insignificant portion of news results are displayed as features from the web search page. What I mean is that when I want news, I often just do a Google search for the topic on the regular Google search page (or, rather, from the Firefox Google search box), not the special Google News page. Google conveniently displays relevant news results before the search results (under the header "News results for X"). Hence, those news sources that allow Google to index them i

    • by dissy (172727)

      They accuse Google of dropping them out of their search results (or at least lowering their pagerank) if they ask Google to remove their articles from Google News. So the accusation is abuse of a dominant position.

      That's even more hilarious!

      They tell Google to stop linking to their stuff, and then are honestly surprised that Google stops linking to their stuff?!

      To use a similar (but totally unrelated) comparison: If you stole money from me, and then later asked me for a beer, don't be so surprised when, despite the fact you have never stolen a beer from me, and despite the fact beer is different than money, I still do not loan you a beer.

    • The summary is completely wide of the mark, agreed.

      I tend not to read the summaries, I read TFA. That's what they're there for. /. is just an aggregator after all. :) Occasionally I read the comments, when I specifically want to see what other people's approaches are to the subject matter. The only reason I stick around here is the quality of the discussion (and jokes).

  • by JustNiz (692889)

    >> newspapers are unable to hone their content to try to earn more revenue from online advertising.

    I'm pleased Google don't publish their strategy for ordering search hits. If they did, the newspapers would just sacrifice everything to get a high Google ranking so there would be an immediate and massive drop of content quality and readability.

  • Google is a US company, I say they just cut off Italy all together. The lost revenue would probably be easily made up for in the easing of the regulatory hassle.
  • i propose that google release the information in a more document, paper in envelope, by courier, wax sealed way to compel these jerks that searching google for "how google searches" is not above them
  • $NEWSPAPER has asked the Government to examine Google News and other content aggregators, claiming they contribute insufficiently to their income.

    "The newspapers put their content up on the web for free and then Google, the freeloading bastards, tell people where to find it. We told them to pay up or stop using our stuff, and they said OK, they'd stop using our stuff!

    "We need the Government to bring back balance, 'balance' defined as being able to make them give us money because we want it. You'd think

  • Honing Content? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HalAtWork (926717) on Friday August 28, 2009 @04:56PM (#29236769)
    I guess "Honing Content" is doublespeak for "gaming the system" which means it just raises the bar so that smaller publishers won't be as visible. I guess these publishers are upset because they're on equal footing. What customers want is a product without all the marketing, but what these greedy entities are trying to do is make a lot of marketing with no product.

    What is the compromise? Do we come up with a standard way of ranking that can be exploited much faster than we can update the standard to prevent this? I think here, the product that Google is giving customers is the method that they are aggregating content. Perhaps these publishers would be better off going to a competitor, but if customers don't prefer the competitor's method of aggregating content, they will come back to Google, which is a sign that Google is doing things right.

    I don't think publishers should have a say on the method that Google presents its index, because Google does not have a monopoly on indexes. I think they are just targeting Google because it is popular (and not by any anti-competitive practices, correct me if I'm wrong), and they are not able to increase their ROI without unfairly gaining an advantage. These publishers really do seem to be whining.
  • In other words... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    In other words, "We're not able to exploit your algorithms to manipulate our search ranking in ways that don't relate to the actual content of our news articles. We want to appear higher on the rankings even though our articles have no content. Therefore we demand you release the details of your proprietary algorithms so that we can more easily manipulate them to gain an unfair advantage." Does that about sum it up?

    • I think you forgot the part about Google paying the Italians protection money.

      "Nice search engine you got there. Shame if something was to happen to it."
  • Just a couple weeks ago I saw a report stating that despite Google's search supremacy, Yahoo was still the biggest "portal" on the web, followed oddly enough by AOL, I believe. I think that Italy's questionable complaint is barking up the wrong tree. I suppose they know that Google's got the big bucks, and remember that Italy is run by a megalomaniacal media tycoon.

  • For those who don't remember: Italy's Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, owns Mediaset, the biggest broadcast and media company in Italy, and as prime minister, he also controls the government broadcaster. More of Berlusconi's "insightful" ideas on Slashdot here:

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