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Google's Fight to Keep Search a Secret

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Google's Marissa Mayer

Google's Marissa Mayer argues that Google must keep its search secrets out of the hands of spammers.

Stephen Shankland / CNET

Can Google keep a secret?

Conspiracy theorists disinclined to read any further, fire away about the NSA and Wi-Fi-gate. The actual topic of this discussion is more basic to Google's core identity: should it be required to disclose how its secret recipe for organizing the Internet is put together as to assure regulators and Internet publishers that it isn't gaming the results?

The New York Times fired the first salvo—at least this week—suggesting in an editorial Wednesday that "the potential impact of Google's algorithm on the Internet economy is such that it is worth exploring ways to ensure that the editorial policy guiding Google's tweaks is solely intended to improve the quality of the results and not to help Google's other businesses." That was quickly followed by an opinion piece in The Financial Times credited to Google's Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience, defending Google's need to keep that formula secret because "if search engines were forced to disclose their algorithms and not just the signals they use, or, worse, if they had to use a standardized algorithm, spammers would certainly use that knowledge to game the system, making the results suspect."

It's just the latest headache for Google when it comes to federal regulation both at home and in Europe, which is probably why it chose to place its op-ed piece in the FT. Simply put, there are a growing number of regulators, agitators, and regular people who just don't trust Google when it comes to the integrity of its search results.

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