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search neutrality

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Search neutrality is the concept that the rules for net neutrality, as stated in the Open Internet Order of 2010, should be applied to search engines. An important goal of search neutrality efforts is to ensure that an engine's organic search results do not favor the company that owns the search engine or the company's partners.

When a search engine company's practices are anti-competitive, it potentially violates anti-trust laws that have been put in place to promote fair competition. Proponents of search neutrality are concerned that without oversight, large companies that provide consumers with organic search results are legally free to favor their own products and services and those of their business partners.

In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concluded that Google Inc. conducted business in ways that harmed internet users and prevented competition. In a settlement, Google agreed that online advertisers could manage ad campaigns on Google’s AdWords platform and on rival ad platforms simultaneously. Google also agreed to refrain from promoting its own and its partner offerings in vertical search results.

As of this writing, the European Commission (EC) has brought anti-trust charges against Google that allege the company is abusing its dominance in search to favor websites that use Google's own Ad Sense advertising business to place ads on web pages. The Commission is also investigating whether Google gives preference to its own products, including Google Search and Chrome, in its Android operating system.

This was last updated in April 2017

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