Archive for April, 2007

The Power of Search Engines

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

This bi-lingual edited volume on ‘The Power of Search Engines‘ just came out. It is edited by Marcel Machill and Markus Beiler, both from the Media Sciences Faculty of the University of Leipzig. It is certainly worth reading. Some contributions are in German, others in English. The book is the result of a conference in Berlin in June 2006, “Die wachsende Macht von Suchmaschinen im Internet: Auswirkungen auf User, Medienpolitik und Medienbusiness.“.

The introduction by the editors (in German) , ‘Search Engine Research. Overview and systematics of an interdisciplinary research field’ is an excellent overview of search engine research (except for information retreival). The volume continues in three parts. The first and most substantive part attacks search engine law and policy issues, including search engine economics, the second the subject of search engines and journalism, and the third the quality of search engines and user behaviour.

Wolfgang Schulz and Thorsten Held made a contribution to the first part (in German) They write about the issue of Search Engine (Self-)Censorship in Germany and the question whether the present practice of filtering by major search engines is in line with the prohibition of censorship and the Freedom of Expression (in Germany). Since 2004 there is a self-regulatory regime adopted by the major search engines, to filter certain results (such as hate speech and child pornography). The search engines use the lists of the (government) agency for the protection of minors. The question Schulz and Held answer (negatively) is whether this filtering can be seen as a result of State action, thereby qualifying as an infringement of article 10 ECHR. (NB. This infringement could well be justified under article 10 (2) ECHR.)

They (and others) also deal with the issue what type of Freedom of Expression protection search engines should receiv, i.e. what type of medium we are dealing with (Press, Common carrier, Broadcasting?). They conclude that under German Constitutional Law search engines can be seen as broadcasters (Rundfunk) and therefore receive protection of article 5 abs. 1 S. 2 GG. They argue that search engine service in their ordinary non-personalized form constitute a public communication by means of telecommunication. The degree of “relevance for the forming of opinions” (Meinungsbildungsrelevanz) search engines are seen to have can consequentially be a reason for stronger regulation than other media. (TV is said to have a very high relevance for the forming of opinions).

Elizabeth Van Couvering raises that issue as well and suggests that the broadcasting model should be considered for search engines. Her piece “The Economy of Navigation: Search Engines, Search Optimization and Search Results” is part of her PhD project and deals with the issue of manipulation of search engine results from a poltical economic point of view.

The contribution I liked best is “Concepts of Power in Search Engine Research” (in german), by Theo R”ohle, from the Media and Communications Institute of the University of Hamburg. He critically examines the different approaches taken regarding the power of search engines and proposes an approach based on Actor Network Theory. According to Ro”hle, much of Search Engine research and coverage in the Media, relates to the growing power of search engines, but that power has not yet been systematically examined.

Other contributors (among many others) include Urs Gasser, Boris Rotenberg, Vinzenz Wyss, Guido Keel, Benjamin Peters, Dirk Lewandowski and Benjamin Edelman.

Google’s privacy threat

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Google’s announced take-over of DoubleClick has been reason for EPIC to file a complaint at the FTC. EPIC reports in its newsletter that “there is simply no consumer privacy issue more pressing for the Commission to consider than Google’s plan to combine the search histories and web site visit records of Internet users”. The complaint has raised a lot of attention in the media.”

Rumours (and here) go around that the EU Article 29 working party also prepares a letter concerning Google’s privacy policy, which has never been totally in line with the EC privacy directive.

Google take over of Double Click

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

Google’s take over of Double Click shows how serious google is about moving into a wider range of the advertisement business. Double Click is one of the most successful advertisement businesses on the Internet serving a wide range of major websites with their cookie based targeted banner advertisement. Both companies are noted privacy threats and the merger means an unprecedented amount of web behavior profiling comes in the hands of one company. News.com

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