The 14-year Google veteran pointed to the company’s publicly available 164-page webmaster guidelines to how its search functions work.

However, Mr Nayak said, Google could not simply explain how everything worked because that would leave its products open to abuse.

“There are limits to the amount of transparency that makes sense and there are simple reasons for that. Pretty much since the beginning of Google, when it became clear ranking on Google was a valuable thing, people have been trying to spam the index and spam search,” he said.

“The idea of spamming is you’re not so worried about creating websites that service users in whatever way, providing high-quality information for users – instead you look for a mechanism to game the ranking algorithm.”

He said a simple example, “a thorn in our side”, was the use of links between pages: Google used links between webpages in several ways to better verify whether the content was high quality.

Seeking balance

However, there was an entire “cottage industry” among spammers to create artificial links between each others’ web pages to improve their Google search rankings, as well as high-quality sites selling spammers links on their websites.

“If we have too much transparency, it only serves to enable spammers to game the algorithm better. If the goal of transparency is to help webmasters produce high-quality content, too much transparency will have exactly the opposite effect of enabling spammers to outrank high-quality sites … we’ll end up hurting the very people we want to help,” Mr Nayak said.

“I think there’s that balance and it’s naive for us to think that we can have complete transparency and that will help only the high-quality sites.”

ACCC chairman Rod Sims called on Google and Facebook to take more responsibility for the future of journalism because they had largely taken away the advertising that funded news, but had not replaced the media businesses creating the content.

“If they had, we may simply treat this as an example of creative destruction: innovation and technological change creating a more effective or efficient product,” Mr Sims said in a speech on Monday.

“While this view could be taken in relation to the advertising opportunities offered on the digital platforms, it cannot be taken in relation to news and journalism.”

Mr Sims said the key recommendations relating to journalism were oversight of the ranking of news content – which includes a regulatory authority scrutinising information, including how algorithms are affecting ranks – a government review to build a framework to apply to all media rather than patchwork across mediums, and a mandatory standard around taking down copyright-infringing content.

Mr Nayak would not comment directly on the role of regulation to address Google’s impact on the media environment.

“Regulation should be done in a way that solves specific problems without having unintended consequences,” he said. “And my goal is to make sure people understand how we build search and some of the unintended consequences that might happen if we have bad regulations.”

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