Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Google and antitrust

Wonderful stuff in Wired's feature on Google's constant improvement in search algorithms
And Google keeps improving. Recently, search engineer Maureen Heymans discovered a problem with “Cindy Louise Greenslade.” The algorithm figured out that it should look for a person — in this case a psychologist in Garden Grove, California — but it failed to place Greenslade’s homepage in the top 10 results. Heymans found that, in essence, Google had downgraded the relevance of her homepage because Greenslade used only her middle initial, not her full middle name as in the query. “We needed to be smarter than that,” Heymans says. So she added a signal that looks for middle initials. Now Greenslade’s homepage is the fifth result.

At any moment, dozens of these changes are going through a well-oiled testing process. Google employs hundreds of people around the world to sit at their home computer and judge results for various queries, marking whether the tweaks return better or worse results than before. But Google also has a larger army of testers — its billions of users, virtually all of whom are unwittingly participating in its constant quality experiments. Every time engineers want to test a tweak, they run the new algorithm on a tiny percentage of random users, letting the rest of the site’s searchers serve as a massive control group. There are so many changes to measure that Google has discarded the traditional scientific nostrum that only one experiment should be conducted at a time. “On most Google queries, you’re actually in multiple control or experimental groups simultaneously,” says search quality engineer Patrick Riley. Then he corrects himself. “Essentially,” he says, “all the queries are involved in some test.” In other words, just about every time you search on Google, you’re a lab rat.
The EC's view on antitrust is decades behind that in the States (check Aiginger's paper on the differences between European and American IO economists for one reason); I can't help but hope we won't see a repeat of Learned Hand in Alcoa, Euro style:
There were at least one or two abortive attempts to
enter the industry, but "Alcoa" effectively anticipated and forestalled all competition, and succeeded in holding the field alone. True, it stimulated demand and opened new uses for the metal, but not without making sure that it could supply what it had evoked. There is no dispute as to this; "Alcoa" avows it as evidence of the skill, energy and initiative with which it has always conducted its business; as a reason why, having won its way by fair means, it should be commended, and not dismembered. We need charge it with no moral derelictions after 1912; we may assume that all it claims for itself is true. The only question is whether it falls within the exception established in favor of those who do not seek, but cannot avoid,3 the control of a market. It seems to us that that question scarcely survives its statement. It was not inevitable that it should always anticipate increases in the demand for ingot and be prepared to supply them. Nothing compelled it to keep doubling and redoubling its capacity before others entered the field. It insists that it never excluded competitors; but we can think of no more effective exclusion than progressively to embrace each new opportunity as it opened, and to face every newcomer with new capacity already geared into a great organization, having the advantage of experience, trade connections and the elite of personnel. Only in case we interpret "exclusion" as limited to maneuvers not honestly industrial, but actuated solely by a desire to prevent competition, can such a course, indefatigably pursued, be deemed not "exclusionary." So to limit it would in our judgment emasculate the Act; would permit just such consolidations as it was designed to prevent.
Alcoa's efficiency was reason for sanction against it, much as the efficiencies that would have been realized in GE/Honeywell were reason for EC opposition to the merger. That case is nearly ten years old now, and I've not kept up with latest developments there. Am I too pessimistic?

No comments:

Post a Comment

As I randomly delete anonymous comments, please use a handle. Comments on older posts go into moderation; sorry if there are delays in hoisting your comment from the moderation pool.