The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee is seeking the help of Internet search engines in trying to combat unscrupulous online moving brokers that his panel says are trying to "game" search results to reach potential customers.
Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., reached out to Google, Microsoft and Yahoo as part of the committee's investigation into Internet moving brokers.
In a staff report released last week, the committee found that some moving brokers, many of which use the Internet to reach consumers, lure potential customers with low-priced bids for moving services, but often fail to note that the binding "deposits" consumers provide actually go to cover the brokers' fees. As a result, consumers are often left paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in additional fees to the companies that actually show up to move their stuff. The movers will sometimes hold their belongings hostage if they refuse to pay up, the investigation found.
In letters Tuesday to Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, Rockefeller said it appeared many of the Internet brokers were trying to manipulate search engine results so their websites rise to the top of search rankings.
"Frequently, Internet moving brokers identified in the investigation, which received high numbers of consumer complaints, ranked highly in the search results," Rockefeller said in his letters to the companies. "Based upon evidence obtained through the investigation, it appears that some of these companies may be "gaming the system" in order to boost their search rankings."
Rockefeller did not specifically ask that the companies take steps to bump the online moving brokers down in their search rankings. He did, however, note that he was sharing the committee's investigation results with the companies given the importance they place on "improving the quality of your users' searches."
"Internet search is a powerful tool for consumers," he wrote. "Unfortunately, the committee's investigation shows that a number of moving companies are using Internet-based commerce to take advantage of consumers."
Internet search rankings have long been a point of contention for companies and others. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., complained to Google for several years about how a website that included a nasty definition of the one-time GOP presidential candidate appeared at the top of Google's search results when people searched for his name. And Google's rivals have argued to antitrust regulators that the company manipulates its search results to favor its own products. The Federal Trade Commission is currently investigating those allegations.