According to a Yelp-funded study, Google’s search engine manipulates search results and displays content that favors its business regardless of what consumers’ interests may be.
The study was conducted by top academics from Columbia and Harvard universities and it was sponsored by Google’s competitor Yelp.
During their research, scientists presented study participants two versions of Google search results. One version featured Google-preferred content showing links to local businesses and the Google ratings to them, the second version contained ratings from rival sites and Yelp.
About 45 percent of the 2,690 study participants clicked on links when Yelp and other rival sites were included in search results. Researchers believe that the figure represents a clear sign that Google users are into more varied search results.
The study can also provide strong evidence to back a potential complaint with the FTC against the search giant’s unfair business practices. Google has been eyed by the commission on various occasions for promoting its own services, while in Europe the practice led to sanctions over antitrust violations.
Columbia researchers were startled to learn that building a better Google was a pretty simple task if the company didn’t hide rival links from search results.
Yelp and Yahoo search are two of Google’s major competitors on the web search engine market. Yelp accompanied the study’s results with a YouTube video and a dedicated website. Prof. Tim Wu from the Columbia University and senior author of the study is a prestigious law professor best known for coining the “net neutrality” phrase.
Prof Wu defended Google when the company was bullied by European officials. But looking at the internal data Yelp provided, he was swayed to perform the study on Google. The results of the study were presented Sunday at Oxford University in the U.K.
Google commented on the findings Monday. A spokesperson for the company said that Yelp has been lobbying regulators for years to obtain better placement in search results.
“This latest study is based on a flawed methodology that focuses on results for just a handful of cherry-picked queries,”
Google added. The company also said that all its efforts were focused on delivering the best results to their users.
Other critics also questioned the study. They said that more clicks did not necessarily mean users were more pleased with the search results. More clicks may also signal irritation because of switching from Google to Yelp. Also more clicks may have been the result of a more appealing page display, rather than more relevant search results, critics added.
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