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Study: Google May Skew Search Results To Its Content

Consumers use search engines with the assumption that the search results are unbiased. That is, the search results deliver what's available on the Internet and not what the search engine decides for you. The review website Yelp funded a study where researchers at Harvard and Columbia:

"... presented 2,690 web users with two versions of Google. One version showed search results for local businesses as users usually see them, with links to the businesses along with ratings as posted to a Google site. The other version showed links to businesses along with ratings from rival sites like Yelp... The people studied were 45 percent more likely to click on links if Yelp and other competitors were included — a sign, researchers say, that users prefer more diverse search results."

The study is important because it may force government regulators, including the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to reopen investigations into online search practices. Google and the FTC reached a settlement in January 2013 about concerns that the company's business practices stifled competition.

Results about the Yelp-funded study were reported in the Focus On The User website:

"You might think that Google gives you the best answers from across the web when you search for something as important as a pediatrician in Munich, a bicycle repair shop in Copenhagen, or a hotel in Madrid. But Google doesn’t actually use its normal organic search algorithm to produce the responses to this question that you see prominently on the first screen. Instead, it promotes a more limited set of results drawn from Google+ ahead of the more relevant ones you would get from using Google's organic search algorithm."

To learn more, I encourage you to watch the six-minute video below, which is also available on Youtube:


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Chanson de Roland

If the facts hold up on more rigorous examination, I think that either the FTC or the Department of Justice will have an antitrust case against Google for restraining competition in violation of the Sherman and Clayton Acts in at least two markets. The first market is the market for competing reviewers of local content, such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. The second market is for the product and service reviewed.

In the first, market, Google, based on the utterly false premise that it better serves its users by restricting them to Google+, restricts local reviews to its Google+ results and thus exclude competing review website. That prevent those website from competing with Google+, and that is a patent violation of antitrust law, as Google use its dominant web-search website to restrain competition with direct competitors for its Google+ rating service.

Google also restrains competition in the market for the reviewed good and services. By restricting the results in its local search box to just those from Google+, those competing goods and services, which are not on Google+ but which may be very competitive good or services, don't even have the opportunity to compete, because users don't see them in the local box's search results. And any argument that Google is serving the best interests of its users is completely undermined by the fact that its own organic search engine often concludes that independent and competing review websites offer more relevant and better quality search results. So Google's exclusion of competing review websites also restrains competition for among competing goods and services.

Therefore, Google is dis-serving its users by offering them limited and often inferior quality search results and appears to be doing that in a way that violates U.S. antitrust law and probably EU competition law (Competition Laws) as well. As for the apparent violations of law the appropriate U.S. authorities should investigate Google's practices as reported on here and in the cited sources, and, if it appears that Google has violated the applicable Competition Laws, they should vigorously prosecute Google for damages and for equitable orders to reform its business practices in search to comply with applicable law.

Users can respond to either get better search results and/or disapprove of Google's conduct by choosing alternatives to Google's search. One that has worked well for me to provide search results from all of the review websites, which Google's search excludes, is DuckDuckGo at I recommend DuckDuckGo at least as an alternative to see what you're missing on Google.

David Shakespeare

The allegation against Google may be true, but I'm suspicious since the study was financed by a competitor. I've found that Yelp is very selective about reviews that it will approve for businesses. I once wrote a review of a restaurant in my city that compared the quality of food at the restaurant after ownership had changed hands and Yelp rejected it. They said it was irrelevant information.

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