I have often thought that you can divide up the risks of the big internet platforms by plotting a 2X2 grid; on one axis is “wants to spy on everything you do” and on the other is “wants to control everything you do” — Apple scores low on the first axis (they don’t much want to spy on you), and high on the second (they want to control you in intimate and pervasive ways); Google is the reverse (wants to spy on you, but is so capable of following you wherever you go that it doesn’t need to control you to do it), while Facebook gets top marks on both (they spy on everything you do and they want to control you from start to finish).
But with the aggressive pursuit of its Accelerated Mobile Pages program, Google is moving into Facebook territory — spying and control. AMP is a system that sucks pages into Google and redirects mobile users to them, after optimizing them to be quickly served, which is a laudable goal. But Google uses high-handed tactics — like downranking non-participating sites in search results — to force publishers to participate, and to accept Google’s layout choices and infrastructure, in a way that is nontransparent to users, who may think that they’re seeing a publisher-originated page when really they’ve been captured by Google’s system.
In an open letter signed, a group of dozens of leading web developers criticize Google’s choices, and propose alternatives that would allow the goal of delivering a superior user experience on the mobile web without engaging in anti-competitive tactics that undermine the open web.
If Google’s objective with AMP is indeed to improve user experience on the Web, then we suggest some simple changes that would do that while still allowing the Web to remain dynamic, competitive and consumer-oriented:
1. Instead of granting premium placement in search results only to AMP, provide the same perks to all pages that meet an objective, neutral performance criterion such as Speed Index. Publishers can then use any technical solution of their choice.
2/ Do not display third-party content within a Google page unless it is clear to the user that they are looking at a Google product. It is perfectly acceptable for Google to launch a “news reader”, but it is not acceptable to display a page that carries only third party branding on what is actually a Google URL, nor to require that third party to use Google’s hosting in order to appear in search results.
We don’t want to stop Google’s development of AMP, and these changes do not require that. We also applaud search engines that give ranking preference to fast-loading pages. AMP can remain one of a range of technologies that give publishers high quality options for delivering Web pages quickly and making users happy.
However, publishers should not be compelled by Google’s search dominance to put their content under a Google umbrella. The Web is not Google, and should not be just Google.