That's what many in the SEO world argue when they complain of Google's dominance over other search engines, but the unfair competition I have in mind is something entirely different. I'm talking about Google advertising through its own Adsense networks. Strange as it may sound, Google's Portuguese (Spanish? I see some Spanish I'm familiar with, but other words look Portuguese to me) BlogSearch is advertising on Adsense for the phrase "Business Blog" (without quotation marks; for some reason, including the quotation marks drops the ad out of the results entirely).
Now, you may be thinking, "So what if Google advertises through Adsense?" There are two main problems with this that I can discern, namely that such advertising places Google in a position of conflict of interest, and Google's ownership of the ad system means it can unfairly "buy" top rankings.
Unfair Competition Dilemma 1 First, Google advertising through Adsense puts it in a position of conflict of interest. Google needs to serve advertisers and allow for the market to determine which ads climb to the top of Adsense, yet Google itself is competing for that same top spot. This might encourage questionable practices, such as tampering with the Adsense ranking algorithms to place its own ads above others.
The fact that Google's ad is indeed in the top spot compounds the issue and creates an extension to the problem. This ranking indicates that Google's advertising strategy is indeed to compete for prime advertising position (and no, that isn't the only strategy around). While it might have been possible for Google to dismiss the notion of a conflict of interest with regards to high ranking if its ad were ranking last, the top ranking eliminates this defence. Unfair Competition Dilemma 2 Second, Google's Adsense system ranks ads from top to bottom partly according to a bidding system. The more you're willing to pay per click, the higher your ad will rank. Thus advertisers set a bid ceiling for what they're willing to pay, and Google's system ends up having them pay only five cents more than their next competitor.
Now, since Google obviously need not pay for the advertising on its network – this would be akin to taking money out of one pocket and putting it in another – it can get top ranking for any term or phrase it wants. The current most expensive keyword on Google (keywords actually: mesothelioma lawyer) costs $50. Google could bid $1000 on its own system.
In a more sinister use of this advantage, Google could use its knowledge of competitors' bids to get them to pay their ceiling bid. For example, if Google knows A has a bid ceiling of $5.00, Google could bid $4.95 to ensure A pays $5.00 every time his ad is clicked. This isn't what is currently taking place, with Google at the top, but it's a possibility. Indeed, while there is a conflict of interest with Google ranking at the top of its ad display, ranking lower would simply create another conflict of interest.
The conclusion is that regardless of where its ads rank, Google is in a position of conflict of interest when it places ads for its own products on Adsense.
So where does Google go from here? First and foremost, Google needs to immediately cease advertising on its own network. Even if none of the issues named above were actually an ethical problem, the fact that there could be perceived problems hurts Google’s reputation just as much. This in turn puts its future revenues in doubt as advertisers think twice about using Adsense, and obviously would make shareholders, employees and others nervous about dealing with Google.
Once the ads have stopped running, Google needs to identify what caused them to display in the first place. If it was a machine error, the software/hardware needs to be repaired or replaced. If the error was human, the employees in question should be dealt with according to whatever system Google has in place for dealing with disciplinary questions. If such a system shouldn’t exist, Google will need to give the employees responsible a stern warning, some continuing education in ethical guidelines, and of course establish a system and explain it to all employees.
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