AMP It Up: As Its Antitrust Critics Grow Louder, Google Dials Back One of Its Most Controversial Policies

By: Alex Petros (Public Knowledge)

Full disclosure: this blog post was not written with just the best prose and policy prescriptions in mind. There was something else I considered, something shared by everyone from the smallest of bloggers to the New York Times: how to optimize ranking in Google’s search algorithm. As Google is the dominant search engine that people use to navigate their web journeys, search result rankings can have profound consequences. Even the smallest tweaks to this secret sauce algorithm can determine whether this post will be seen by an audience beyond my coworkers, family, and friends—or (perhaps more importantly) if your local newspaper gets the ad revenue needed to stay afloat. Google’s latest tweak, one to its AMP framework, is a step in the right competitive direction, and perhaps a sign that the heightened antitrust scrutiny against the company is already having an effect.

AMP Explained

In case you’re not a voracious reader of the Google Webmaster Central Blog, you might be wondering what AMP is. AMP, or “accelerated mobile pages,” is basically an HTML framework that allows web pages to load faster. Originally developed and still functionally controlled by Google, web publishers can build in AMP code to their web pages. Then Google stores a cached version of the page on its servers and pre-downloads it to your device for faster display after an end user—that’s you!—first clicks on a link.

However, the faster loading times come at a cost, as outlined by the News Media Alliance in a recent white paper. AMP pages keep users on Google’s web ecosystem, allowing Google to continue extracting data from users who otherwise would have moved on to a full third-party site, “further reinforcing Google’s dominance of the Web.” Publishers also cede control to Google of some aspects of their page layout, as well as the number and type of ads they can show. There’s also technical duplication in making AMP versions of all of the web pages in one’s domain, a burden that falls especially heavily on small, local newspapers—whose newsrooms are already hemorrhaging reporters—without a web engineer on staff. Online advertising is increasingly their only financial lifeline, and AMP routes more of that process through Google.