you can’t be neutral on a moving search – skepticism about search neutrality

My inbox is full of little library links and it’s a snow day so I’m settling down to read some longer pieces that I’ve felt that I haven’t had time for. James Grimmelmann is a friend and one of the more readable writers talking about technology and law and the muddy areas where they overlap. He’s written a nice essay on search engine neutrality. What it is, why you might care, who is working on it and how attainable a goal it may or may not be. Specifically, what does it really mean to be neutral, and who decides and who legislates? Quite relevant to all information seeking and finding professionals.

Good reading for a snowy weekday: Some Skepticism About Search Neutrality.

Search neutrality gets one thing very right: Search is about user autonomy. A good search engine is more exquisitely sensitive to a user’s interests than any other communications technology. Search helps her find whatever she wants, whatever she needs to live a self-directed life. It turns passive media recipients into active seekers and participants. If search did not exist, then for the sake of human freedom it would be necessary to invent it. Search neutrality properly seeks to make sure that search is living up to its liberating potential.

Having asked the right question—are structural forces thwarting search’s ability to promote user autonomy?—search neutrality advocates give answers concerned with protecting websites rather than users. With disturbing frequency, though, websites are not users’ friends. Sometimes they are, but often, the websites want visitors, and will be willing to do what it takes to grab them.

One thought on “you can’t be neutral on a moving search – skepticism about search neutrality

  1. One note: there’s a tension between “user autonomy” and privacy. It is in my best interest to allow Google to collect data on my search habits and personalize my results (e.g. Yahoo! Mail may have more users than Gmail, but I use Gmail, so please make that the first result, et cetera, though that is clearly not the reason why Gmail tops those Google results…), but a lot of people are uncomfortable with ANY data being collected, no matter how anonymized, aggregated, whathaveyou the collectors claim it is. Should we be forced to sacrifice efficiency for the sake of privacy? And are we really forced to sacrifice privacy even with all the wonderful (albeit opt-in) plug-ins and privacy measures available out there? Perhaps this is unrelated to search neutrality but it was a thought I had.

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