Policies for Online Search
- Bill D. HermanBill D. HermanGabelli School of Business, Fordham University
The volume of information on the Internet is incomprehensible and growing exponentially. With such a vast ocean of information available, search engines have become an indispensible tool for virtually all users. Yet much of what is available online is potentially objectionable, controversial, or harmful. This leaves search engines in a potentially precarious position, simultaneously wanting to maximize the usefulness of results for end users while also minimizing political, regulatory, civil, and even criminal difficulties in the jurisdictions where they operate. Conversely, the substantial logistical and legal obstacles to regulating Internet content also leave policymakers in an unenviable position, and content that the public or policymakers may well want regulated—even that which is patently illegal—can remain virtually impossible to stamp out.
The policies that may affect online search are incredibly varied, including contract law, laws that affect expression and media producers more generally, copyright, fraud, privacy, and antitrust. For the most part, the law that applies was developed in and will still apply to offline contexts as well. Internet search is still an area filled with its own vexing policy questions. In many cases, these are questions of secondary liability—addressing whether the search provider is liable for search results that link to websites that are beyond their control. In other areas, though, the behavior of search providers will endure specific scrutiny. While many of these questions could be or actually are asked in countries around the world, this article focuses primarily on the legal regimes in the United States and the European Union.