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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Google, in antitrust crosshairs, touts new ‘helpful’ search products

Google Search Head Prabhakar Raghavan opened the company livestream event, saying people use Google over supposed ccompetitors because it’s “helpful.”

Users choose Google because it’s innovative and ‘helpful’ — not because there’s no competition. At least, that’s the message company executives tried to show viewers in an live-streamed event about its search product Thursday.

The company announced a burst of small updates to its core search product, including the ability to detect songs from humming and new tools to help students with homework.

Google’s head of search Prabhakar Raghavan opened the pre-recorded public event with a 15-minute monologue discussing all the ways Google’s search products are “helpful” to consumers while attempting to play up its competition.

“There are more ways than ever to find information: news on Twitter, flights on Kayak and Expedia, restaurants on OpenTable, recommendations on Instagram and Pinterest and many others,” said Raghavan, who took over search and several other products as part of a June reorganization.

“There’s never been more choice in competition than the ways people access information so we’re humbled and honored that people continue to use Google because they find us helpful.” 

The event comes ahead of an imminent antitrust lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice, which is expected to drop this month after more than a year of investigation into the company’s search market power and business practices. The House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust recently released its own expansive investigation findings, which alleged Google “overwhelmingly” dominates the search market, and “abused its gatekeeper power.” In its response, Google accused lawmakers of looking more at helping competitors than consumers.

Thursday’s showcase, which in previous years were held privately with media, also comes as Google parent-company Alphabet aims to rebound its association to innovation and its core business after experiencing its first quarterly year-over-year revenue decline.

Here were three search updates the company announced at the event:

  • Hum-recognition. The company said that is can now detect voice humming and whistling to show what song a user wants to search. On their Google app or Google Search widget, users can tap the microphone icon in the Google search bar and say “what’s this song?” or click “Search a song,” and start humming for 10-15 seconds. On Google Assistant, users can say, “Hey Google, what’s this song?” and then hum the tune.
  • A new spelling algorithm that improves the company’s ability to understand misspellings better.
  • More granular indexing. It also said it improved its ability to index “specific individual” passages from web pages,, which will help it surface “a wider range of results.” 
  • Clothes styling. Starting next month, users can click on any image users come across on the Google app or Chrome and its “Lens” feature will surface similar items and suggest ways to style outfits. Results pull from the company’s large data sets of products, including from Google Shopping. The company declined to say whether it will include more direct purchasing options in the future.
  • Learning tools: Using the Google visual search tool Lens from the search bar in the Google app, users can snap a photo of a homework problem and it turns the image from homework question into a search query. The results will then show how to solve the problem step by step.
  • Detecting areas to avoid during Covid-19. Google said it has added Covid-19 information to its “Business” search results. That includes showing adjusted business hours and details about the health and safety precautions businesses are taking. The company said it plans to eventually show wait times for some businesses like restaurants.

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