Earlier this year Consumer Focus, the statutory consumer champion for the UK, published a paper entitled “All that’s digital isn’t gold: The challenges and risks of the digital age”. The report states that search engines truly are the gateway to information for consumers who use them as the basis for decision making. As a result “Internet search might then be characterised as an essential online service, much like electricity, telephony and banking”. The danger in the search market is that the monopoly operated and maintained by Google “may lead to problems for consumers because the power that they are able to exercise over the search market means that it becomes difficult for others to compete, meaning we will be limited to what they decide to present to us.” The Paper also notes that a further danger is that “search providers have the power to develop practices to suit their own commercial interests more than those of their users” – something we have already seen in other areas of our digital lives, particularly privacy.
In that vein, the Consumer Focus report suggests the way in which Google stores personal data has actually changed the way in which consumers search for information on the web, devaluing the information as a result. It reasons that as Google builds a profile of a user, algorithms decide what content might be of most interest to them “meaning search is becoming a mirror to the world, rather than a window” to knowledge and informed decision making.
The Consumer Focus report concludes “if there were greater diversity in web search, then there would be greater diversity in online commerce, which would be a good thing for consumers and the functioning of the market”.
The ICOMP Secretariat