SEMPO: FTC Shouldn’t Regulate Google and Other Search Engines


Organization sends letter to FTC pleading for the search industry

As companies continue to call for regulation of Google, search industry organization SEMPO has come to the search engine’s defense. The Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization recently sent a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in an effort to explain why regulation is not a good idea.

According to SEMPO President Chris Boggs, the organization, which is made up of thousands of marketing professionals across 50 countries, wrote the letter in response to its members’ concerns. SEMPO felt it needed to voice these concerns and explain why its members want an “open, free channel of communication.”

“Overall, the reason that we felt we needed to send this letter was because we were concerned specifically that the U.S. government is investigating the search operations of Google,” said Boggs.

“It’s not just because we felt we needed to go thank our sponsor, Google,” he added.

The letter calls for a free market approach to the Internet with little or no regulation. It focuses on Google, however, in light of the anticompetitive claims that ShopCity and others have made lately.

Although Boggs does not discredit ShopCity’s claims, he pointed that all businesses are subject to the same rules for both organic search and paid search. In addition, he believes the accusations would have a greater impact if the Google naysayers outnumbered the Google advocates. However, judging from SEMPO’s members, they do not.

“I would want to see a much larger sample of companies saying that it’s unfair, versus the large sample that I’ve seen that have spoken to us and messaged to the board of SEMPO their pro-support of Google and the way they do handle business,” said Boggs.

The letter makes clear that search engines were not intended to be regulated or subject to control from governments or commercial entities, saying:

Search is not a government-run utility, established by law and thus subject to bureaucratic oversight. It is a service provided to consumers and businesses by companies, which have set up their operations using their own principles, proprietary technologies and algorithms. Each company is free to develop its own approach, fulfilling the needs of its customers as it perceives them.”

It makes the case that a free market methodology is what made the Internet what it is today. As Boggs explained, this freedom has allowed the Internet to grow and produce platforms such as social networks.

“If we hadn’t allowed the growth of Facebook and Twitter, and even some of its forbearers like MySpace, we would be nowhere close to where we are now in terms of the ability to communicate and reconnect with old friends on the Internet, for example, and also to perform business,” he said.

In order to further this free market innovation, the SEMPO letter stated that the following 4 requirements were needed:

1. Willingness of legislative and regulatory government entities worldwide to allow the evolution of the Internet in as unfettered a regulatory environment as possible

2. Willingness of publishers and information owners to explore ways of sharing their valuable information with the search engines while not jeopardizing their revenue models

3. Consumers feeling a level of trust with search engines sufficient to allow the search engines to personalize results for them, maintaining privacy settings at a level comfortable to them

4. Understanding by marketers and advertisers that the search engines’ most valuable asset is the user, and therefore the search engines will often place the consumer experience above short-term financial gain

Although SEMPO has not received a response from the FTC, Boggs said that the organization was willing to work with it to help it further understand how the search industry works.

In terms of regulation, Boggs told us that he didn’t see any coming in 2012 but that he could see it happening in 2015 or 2016. If it does happen, Boggs said he hopes that it protects the innocent from potentially harmful content online instead of preventing a free Internet.

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