Google’s new service, ‘Search plus Your World’ (SPYW), a search engine which incorporates the Google plus social network and its organic search results, has been met with extreme dislike.

Social network giant Twitter is one conglomerate that has spoken out against SPYW. Alex Macgillivray, Twitter’s legal counsel and former deputy general counsel for Google, tweeted on Monday: “Bad day for the Internet…Having been there, I can imagine the dissension @Google to search being warped this way.”

Speculation as to why Google introduced the service varies from gaining market share in the social network market to improving the quality of search results through trust and personalisation. Research by Nielsen says almost 90% of users trust recommendations from friends compared to just 42%, who favour search results.

However, there are several aspects of the search engine which prompt widespread critique that Google has become greedy, wanting to dominate the social networking world as well as the search engine market, it currently owns 65%.

SPYW favours Google plus listings above all others. For instance, when you type in your own name, your Google plus account will appear at the top of the page, even if your online activity is greater on other social outlets. This means that news feeds such as Twitter, a relevant and reliable source of real-time information with more than 100 million users sending 250 million Tweets about varying topics daily, will no longer show at the top of the Google search engine. This makes the Google results less relevant – an obvious flaw.

Complaints have also been made that SPYW makes Google more cluttered and less user-friendly something that, along with the concept of page rank, made it so popular when it was launched. One user said: “It feels like a proprietary search box on a social network site”. This prompts the feeling that Google has lost track of what initially propelled its popularity, namely simplicity, accompanied with a sniff of ‘Sir’ patronising your incompetent schoolchild-self. Are we incapable of understanding what information we seek?

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reported earlier today that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has expanded its antitrust investigation of Google, confirmed in June 2011, to include Google plus. This news followed an investigation by online watchdog, Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC), based in Washington, D.C. of possible privacy violations.
EPIC said: “Google’s business practices raise concerns related to both competition and the implementation of the Commission’s consent order.” This referred to an agreement that the FTC established with Google setting out privacy safeguards for Google users and subjecting the search giant to regular privacy audits.

A Senate hearing was held recently to discuss Google increasing their dominance in the search market to suppress competition. And the FTC is currently investigating Google’s use of Youtube search ranking. It is accused of giving preferential treatment to its own video content over non-Google content

In SPYW’s launch announcement Google said the new service is: “Transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but people and relationships.” However, the backlash begs the questions, does SPYW really improve users search experience, and is it honestly a reflection of Google’s (dubious) understanding of people and relationships? Signs are not positive.

It feels like Google has gone a step too far. Whereas Google plus felt like a positive development, SPYW feels like an attempt to control our online experience. This, accompanied by Google’s aggressive marketing tactics, for instance there is an ‘opt-out’ button rather than an ‘opt-in’ button, are making people feel like ‘opt’ should be changed to obligatory. And no-one likes being told what to do.

So where will this dislike lead? Will people ‘opt-out’ of Google permanently choosing one of the search engines from the remaining 35% share of the market? Or will sites such as Facebook and Apple, companies that have capital and resources, launch a new search engine? Expensive and technologically difficult but a realistic possibility.

In an interview held on January 11th between Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Marketing Land & Search Engine Land and Eric Schmidt, Google’s Chairman and former CEO; Sullivan asked Schmidt whether Google was favouring its own content over Twitter. Schmidt denied the allegation and responded: “I do hope when you speak to Facebook, you ask them analogous questions about opening up their index and all that content that’s behind there.”

by Becki Chester