- Acid Test by Quixote - http://www.molvray.com/acidtest -

What is wrong with this picture?

I’ll admit it. I have an axe to grind with search engines, and there’s a rant coming about them Real Soon Now. But the following just cries out for immediate carping. Via Groklaw – Digging for Truth [1], Volokh and Falk [2] (pdf) on the topic of free speech protections for search engines:

…search engines are speakers. First, they sometimes convey information that the search engine company has itself prepared or compiled …. Second, they direct users to material created by others, …. Such reporting about others’ speech is itself constitutionally protected speech.

Third, and most valuably, search engines select and sort the results in a way that is aimed at giving users what the search engine companies see as the most helpful and useful information.

My beef isn’t (at least not here) about whether or not a private company making money through speech has the same protections as an individual expressing a political opinion. I want to draw attention to the framing. “[S]earch engines select and sort the results in a way that [aims to give] users what the search engine companies see as the most helpful and useful information.”

That’s what the search engines say they do. That is accepting their version of their actions without question.

The most elementary detective principles suggest it’s dumb not to at least ask, “Who benefits?” Pretending it’s a given that the user benefits is either foolish, lazy, or propaganda, or all three.

Search engines are private companies. Their first loyalty is to their own profit. They have to put effort into service to the users; it’s a cost. If other businesses are anything to go by, it will be minimized to the extent compatible with retaining enough users to make a profit. The profits come from ads. The first priority of search engines will be getting clicks on ads.

There. That’s not even difficult or tedious to figure out. It’s about three steps in all.

More important, it’s vitally relevant to how many free speech rights must be granted to search engines. If they’re in this to push the boundaries of human knowledge, why, then, give them every right there is. That would mean the least regulation for the search companies, which would suit them just fine. If they’re in this to push ads, then maybe we shouldn’t be quite so laissez-faire about allowing them to rank results however they please. They’d make less money. Is it any wonder they’re so publicly convinced they have only the interests of the users at heart? Is it stranger that very intelligent people swallow the bait, hook, line, and sinker, and then create erudite reasoning about constitutional law out of it?

Sorry, folks. GIGO [3].

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "What is wrong with this picture?"

#1 Comment By Branjor On 20 May, 2012 @ 11:57

Hi, quixote, was glad to see your participation on the F Word threads regarding radical feminism and transgenderism. I didn’t participate but I was reading.You made some good comments. What a travesty the longer thread turned into.
As to search engines, I agree. I have sometimes had to go many pages into the results before finding something I considered helpful. I also have a problem with dickipedia.

#2 Comment By quixote On 20 May, 2012 @ 15:05

I’m not sure why even intelligent people are so ready to give Google a free pass. Maybe because it’s just too uncomfortable to realize we’ve been turned into some kind of cattle, farmed by the GOOG.

Yeah, the FWord threads have been fascinating. Given how little I know about the whole trans world, I should probably just keep my mouth shut, but I’ve always been bad at that. [Update 2014-12-20: the following link has disappeared. It’s mentioned in [4] under May 12, 2012, but the link to the interview is gone.] The thing that has me most gobsmacked may be that aside in the [5], the business about academic women’s studies departments becoming in effect trans studies departments! Mindboggling. You’d think males who want to transition to women would want to get into women’s frames of mind. Not take them over. It’s almost enough to get all gender essentialist. (Updated 2014: the link to the transcript is no longer active. The podcast is still on [6], I think.)

(In reality? I think it shows what happens if you don’t spend the first however-many years of your life being told you’re Number Two.)

#3 Comment By Branjor On 21 May, 2012 @ 20:14

Quixote, sorry I’ve taken so long to get back.
Yes, it really is appalling what they are doing to women’s studies. The transactivists do want to take over women’s frames of mind and women’s spaces and are waging an aggressive campaign to do just that. It is all just so totally and boringly male.
Radical feminists are not gender essentialists. RFs define gender as socially assigned patriarchal sex roles/stereotypes and as such are purely culturally determined. What is not culturally determined is biological/reproductive sex, in most cases either female or male, and in a smaller number of cases, intersex of one kind or another. What sex you are born is what sex you will die no matter what you do to your body, what clothes you wear or social role you undertake in the interim. The intersex does not cancel out sexual dimorphism, that is that each of us has 2 biological parents, one who donated the egg/gestated/birthed and one who donated the sperm, not 3 parents, 4 or any other number.

#4 Comment By Branjor On 26 May, 2012 @ 11:26

Just so ye know – I’m Barbara Di Bari Visconti at the Widdershins. Thanks for agreeing – they can’t seem to grok to what they’re doing when they make either one or the other lousy choice the only possibilities.

Anywayz – I really am sorry I took so long to get back – was sick with very low energy. Just getting better.

#5 Comment By quixote On 27 May, 2012 @ 06:03

Ha. That explains why she was making sense over there :D.

Get better!

#6 Comment By Branjor On 27 May, 2012 @ 09:57

Thanks, I am! 🙂