Google was the subject of a serious investigation in the European Union recently, and condemned for using unethical practices to favor its own services in search results. The official accusations that were made this April by the antitrust authorities of the bloc, and are considered to be just the first in a series of further attacks the American search giant (not very popular among European authorities) will be subject in the future.
But Google also has its opponents in the US – no wonder, as it is the most used and most successful search engine of all time. A study conducted by a team led by Tim Wu, best known for coining the term “net neutrality”, and commissioned by Yelp, a service that provides crowd-sourced reviews of various venues, shows that Google is degrading search results to push the content available through its own services to the top, this way harming its competitors. For example, searching for “royal vegas casino 1200 bonus offers would rank a Google Plus post about this offer higher than a blog post by a dedicated website within this niche. The test was done in two batches – one of them involved searching Google normally, the other was using Focus on the User, a service which favors third party content over Google’s own Google Plus service. The results show that Google, by pushing forward the content shared through Google Plus, is promoting inferior content compared to the one available at third parties.
“The survey found 32 percent of users would click on Google’s current local results, while 47 percent click on the alternative merit-based results. That near-50 percent increase in clicks is “immense in the modern Web industry” the authors wrote.” (The Wall Street Journal)
Google has, of course, responded to the accusations. “This isn’t new – Yelp’s been making these arguments to regulators, and demanding higher placement in search results, for the past five years. This latest study is based on a flawed methodology that focuses on results for just a handful of cherry-picked queries. At Google we focus on trying to provide the best result for our users,” the e-mailed response states. Indeed, Yelp is not at its first attack against Google. The company is listed in the above mentioned antitrust case against Google in Europe.
Search Engine Land editor Danny Sullivan, cited by SlashGear, thinks the study is unnecessary. He considers the conclusions reached by the research team is a bit of an overreaction, especially because users have learned not to click those irrelevant links anyway. But still, this study might serve as a basis for future attacks against Google’s presumed or real anti-competitive behavior.