Google says it's middling, not fiddling

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The Independent Online

Typing "search engines" into Google does not throw up the name of the internet search giant itself, at least not on the first page of results, the company pointed out, as it sought to deflect criticism of its secret and powerful ranking system.

In an effort to bolster public support as it faces a possible competition inquiry in Europe, the company set out its search philosophy in a blog post that made light of its occasional failings.

"Search is nowhere near a solved problem," said Amit Singhal, the engineer in charge of ranking search results at Google. "Every day we get the right answers for people, and every day we get stumped. And we love getting stumped. Because more often than not, a broken query is just a symptom of a potential improvement to be made to our ranking algorithm."

Google makes one or two changes to its algorithm every day, on average, in order to prevent "lousy" results, Mr Singhal said. But what the company does not do is intervene manually, and it does not push rival websites down the rankings – something of which it has been accused by three companies in recent weeks.

The European Commission, acting on those complaints, has asked for information and will consider whether to launch a formal inquiry. Google says that it will co-operate, but it has kept key details of its search engine algorithm secret because it does not want its rivals to get its hands on its formula for success.

Foundem, a husband-and-wife-run website in the UK, and a French group called eJustice made the complaints, along with Ciao, a price comparison site purchased in 2008 by Microsoft, which runs Google's latest rival search engine, Bing.

"We do take action on sites that are in violation of our policies or for a small number of other reasons," Mr Singhal wrote, "such as legal requirements, child porn, spam, viruses/malware, etc. But those cases are quite different from the notion of rearranging the page you see one result at a time."

The intervention of the European Commission on the issue of Google's algorithm is just the latest in a string of competition investigations, copyright battles and privacy lawsuits facing Google across the world, now that it has moved into more and more areas of the web.