When Eric Cartman prettied himself up in makeup and started shouting "Whatever! I'll do what I want!" on a fictional Maury Povich talk show, he and South Park's creators were flexing the freedom of speech rights allowed to everyone in the United States. Now, Google may be getting ready to do what it wants, too; the company recently commissioned a report by a First Amendment scholar who concluded that Google's search engine results are constitutionally protected speech and shouldn't be subject to government anti-trust regulations.
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, the brains behind the claims, says that search engine results serve as the company's "opinion" about the query as asked by the searchee.
"It uses sophisticated computerized algorithms, but those algorithms themselves inherently incorporate the search engine company engineers’ judgments about what material users are most likely to find responsive to their queries," he writes in the 27 page report.
Volokh also says that search engines are essentially media companies like the New York Times and CNN, so he claims that Google, Bing and co. should be afforded the same free speech rights as more traditional publications. Or, as PaidContent puts it, if the Times can spit out "All the news that's fit to print," the same right should apply to search results.
PaidContent additionally points out that if that's true, Google would be within its rights to blacklist Yelp, which has been yelping about Google being a monopoly. Google has recently come under intense anti-trust scrutiny from both the United States and the European Union, which likely caused Google to commission the report.
It's an interesting change of tactics for the Mountain View crew, which previously claimed that its results shouldn't be regulated because Google isn't really a monopoly: anybody can use Bing or Dogpile at any time. Now, Google (via the commissioned report) is essentially giving up on the neutrality claims and shouting "Whatever! Whatever! The constitution lets me do what I want!"
What do you think: should Google be allowed to do whatever it wants with its search results? What do you think will happen in countries that don't have free speech protections? Google is a global business, after all.