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FTC‘s Probe of Online Search Market: The Latest Threat to Internet Freedom

by Douglas Kellogg / /

The Federal Trade Commission’s current investigation ofsearch engine practices threatens to become the next crisis for Internetfreedom and e-commerce; and it is a threat that has remained under the radar.

Many are wholly unaware of the current FTC effort (alongwith other probes from some state-level district attorneys around the U.S. andthe European Commission) to pursue “fairness” in the online search marketplace.Of course, readers of this blog were clued into the emerging danger sooner thanothers, when last year NTUraised concerns over the FTC’s actions.

Since then the concerns have intensified. Now, an NTU/IBOPEZogby poll has revealed that the American people have no interest in suchgovernment interference in the search engine realm and they are quite happywith an already competitive batch of search options. The poll found 79 percentof respondents were against government regulation of search engines, and 76percent thought more government involvement online would make the Internetworse for consumers.

So why is this even happening? As we saw with the uproarover the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), when aggrieved interests with power andwaning competitive strength join hands with a government eager to grow inpower, the results can be damaging to the market and freedom - evoking intensepublic opposition. Right now the search engine investigation is in a morenascent stage, but the potential impacts of government search engine regulationare numerous.

Imagine an Internet search where the results werealphabetized. Imagine a search that pushed politician-approved results towardthe top. Imagine asking Siri to find you the nearest McDonald’s and being giventhe locations of 10 other chain restaurants as well. The useless (and disturbing)possibilities go on … Think of the security problems posed by removing a searchengine’s ability to prioritize your results? It’s tough enough keeping childrenin the proper corners of the Internet; government-enforced “fairness” couldpotentially make that task even tougher, or end up giving the government vastsearch engine censorship powers in the name of security.

Ever since the online marketplace has been changingconsumers’ and taxpayers’ lives for the better, governments have been proposingtaxation and regulation schemes that would make matters worse. Besides thethreats of the StreamlinedSales and Use Tax Agreement and so-called “NetNeutrality” that NTU identified – not to mention the flap that many othersraised over SOPA – government-backed investigations like FTC’s should be on thewatch list too.

If you are reading about this for the first time, there is alot to take in, but this situation looks to be the next battleground in thefight over online freedom. Stay tuned to NTU.org and Government Bytes for more.