For the last 10 years, Google has been building new widgets into its search results — and now, a group of journalists has built a browser extension to show you what search would look like without them. Built by The Markup, Simple Search strips out the information panels, shopping boxes, and search ads to show only the raw web search results. It’s a view of an older, simpler Google, one with surprising antitrust implications.
Introducing the extension, Maddy Varner and Sam Morris describe it as a conscious throwback to an earlier version of Google search, before the integration of the Knowledge Graph and its accompanying information boxes.
“The extension lets you travel back to a time when online search operated a little differently,” they write. “Nowadays, you don’t always have to click any of the ‘blue links’ to get information related to your search — Google gives you what it thinks is important in info boxes of information pulled from other websites.”
Google’s antitrust critics (particularly Yelp) have long called for this kind of unbundling of search results from Google products like Maps or Shopping, arguing that incorporating infoboxes lets Google starve out competitors. While the broader case for “search neutrality” has floundered, the narrow concerns about product integration have found significant traction with regulators, most recently in the House antitrust hearing this summer.
As Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) put it at the hearing, “Our documents show that Google evolved from a turnstile to the rest of the web to a walled garden that increasingly keeps users within its sites.”
At the hearing, Google CEO Sundar Pichai defended the changes by saying they are meant to provide a better user experience within Google search. “When I run the company, I’m really focused on giving users what they want,” Pichai told Cicilline. “We conduct ourselves to the highest standard.”