Study: Google search results skewed, harm consumers

Post updated below with Google comment.

A new study claims that the way Google presents search results is harming consumers and competitors. It could bolster Europe’s antitrust case against the search giant.

The study was sponsored by Yelp, which is one of the complainants in the European antitrust case. It was co-written by former Federal Trade Commission adviser and noted Internet academic Tim Wu (who’s known to have coined the term “net neutrality”) and was submitted Friday to EU regulators.

The study, which was also written by Michael Luca of Harvard Business School, found that users were 45 percent more likely to click on results that were ranked by relevance, as opposed to the way Google ranks them — with its own offerings listed at the top of search results. Google has claimed that its handling of search results is meant to serve the interests of users, with Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s recent saying that all Google is doing is trying to make search get “better and better over time.”

The Yelp data, based on responses from 2,690 users shown two different sets of search results, shows that Google is “degrading its own search results by excluding its competitors at the expense of its users,” according to the study.

Wu’s role in the study is a bit surprising because he’s a former Google fellow who has defended the company in the past.

“I have great respect and admiration for Google as a company, and feel that 90 percent of what they do makes life easier or better,” Wu said, according to Bloomberg. “In this case, I am convinced that Yelp’s data is showing a deviation from those principles, and I agreed to write the paper to make that point known to the world.”

Google says this study is part of Yelp’s ongoing campaign against it.

“This isn’t new — Yelp’s been making these arguments to regulators, and demanding higher placement in search results, for the past five years,” a spokesperson told SiliconBeat in an email. “This latest study is based on a flawed methodology that focuses on results for just a handful of cherry-picked queries.”

The European Commission brought antitrust charges against Google in April. The company recently got an extension for submitting its response to the charges; the new deadline is July 17, according to the Wall Street Journal. The antitrust charges could force Google to make big changes and result in billions of dollars in fines against the company.


Photo from AFP/Getty Images


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  • Cheap & Nothing Wasted

    And soon there will be additional studies showing that Google doesn’t skew search results.
    And more showing it does, ad infinitum!

  • DavieLand

    Once the word Yelp appeared, all credibility flew out the window. Right or wrong, most consumers will see this study for what it is: an attempt by Yelp to discredit a competitor and justify its inability to make a profit. Every accusation about Google pertains to Yelp sevenfold as it is not accurate in its data, it manipulates search and does a disservice to consumers and businesses alike.

  • simonts

    Yelp is complaining, really? The Yelp that removes positive reviews if you do not pay them and removes negative reviews for businesses that pay them? Yelp is a bunch of crooks, most people have stopped using their site a long time ago. The idea was good but Yelp’s greed and the total lack of integrity of its management ruined it.