Search Engine Optimization and Google Ethics

A recent thread at Webmasterworld takes a look at the issue of SEO, Ethics, and Google. The premise of the original post in the thread states that many webmasters are now defining 'acceptable behaviour' and 'ethical SEO' in terms of the party lines thrown out by Google via their 'official outlets' such as the various Google Groups, Matt Cutts' blog, etc.

To a certain extent, the original poster has recognized a valid and growing trend in webmasters - there is no doubt that many are now speaking the Google party line. After all, why shouldn't they? As the largest search engine, Google has virtual life-or-death control over what sites are popular and which are not. A penalty imposed by Google for not meeting their guidelines is a death knell for a site, often condemning it to a state of limbo.

We are in a situation where Google has become the unofficial regulatory body for the Internet. As a webmaster and a professional Search Engine Optimization consultant, it is certainly within my best interests and that of my clients to do what Google says, just sit down and obey. And of course I will - we all have to. But how can this situation be made right?

Google, as a private company, has an unmatched control over the Internet, certainly greater than any other corporation or government. There is no one to hold them accountable for their actions, and they are free to now make rules arbitrarily in their best corporate interests. To some extent, they are free to use the Internet as they wish to maximize their growth and profits while at the same time making conditions as untenable as possible for their competitors.

Nobody can question that some of the recent, Google-imposed rules are arbitrary. For example, Google wants all paid links, or links created by users to bear the rel="nofollow" tag. At the same time, they feel quite cavalier over using regular, full strength links on their own properties. See this post for some examples.

With Google's unprecedented control over the Internet, is it perhaps time that we see some sort of public control over the company? While I am unsure that increased government regulation is the way to handle this, some methods must be found to make Google more accountable to those who must work within their rules. After all, what's to stop them from doing something really crazy?