File picture: Pixabay
File picture: Pixabay

Google upgrades search features as it faces intense scrutiny

By The Washington Post Time of article published Oct 16, 2020

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By Rachel Lerman

Google announced several small upgrades to its flagship search service Thursday in a public event that also attempted to soothe concerns over the anti-competitive scrutiny it's facing from regulators.

The Justice Department is expected to file an antitrust lawsuit against the Mountain View, Calif.-based company in the coming weeks, the first of its kind against a tech giant in decades. That suit is expected to focus, at least partly, on Google's dominance in online search.

During the company's streaming Search On event, head of search Prabhakar Raghavan pointed to one of Google's most common defenses - that people have a lot of options to find information.

"There's never been more choice and competition in the way people access information," he said.

Google makes thousands of small changes to its search engine every year and has been investing heavily in artificial intelligence research to power its service. Last year, the company announced what it said was the biggest change to its search algorithm: a software tweak to better interpret sentences.

Google has also come under fire for promoting its own products on search results pages, burying competitors' services under Google travel results or shopping or YouTube videos. The company has acquired dozens of smaller companies over the years to develop these products - deals regulators have investigated but largely allowed to proceed.

Google has said repeatedly over the past few months that its services are beneficial for users.

On Thursday, this year's announcement was a prerecorded video with several Google executives.

During the event, Google announced new search features that allow users to index videos and allow people to quickly find the best place to start a video - for example, when a baker is adding sugar to cookies in a cooking video. The company said it expects about 10% of searches to use that new technology by the end of the year.

Google also debuted a feature that allows people to hum into their phones to search for songs they can't get out of their heads, and announced new updates to maps so users can quickly see updated local business information.

The company is facing antitrust concerns, including from Congress, the Justice Department and a coalition of states.

Google controls about 90% of the search market share. In a congressional staff report released this week, investigators found that Google engaged in anti-competitive tactics.

The findings suggested that Google sometimes prioritizes its own products over competitors in search. Some rivals have accused Google of forcing them to pay for advertisements to get their services to show up on search above Google's own.

Google executives did not directly address the concerns during the search event Thursday.

The Washington Post

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