A study in collaboration with Yelp claims Google is cheating in general search results

Google gives preference to its own services during general search results which may be inferior in comparison to the organic search result thus harming its users.

A recent study sponsored by a complainant in the EU antitrust trial against Google revealed that the company has been found to be favoring its own content in search results even if it is of lower quality in comparison to the organic search results; thus harming not only the consumers but also its competitors.

The study was conducted by Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School and Michael Luca, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School. Yelp, a site which lists reviews of businesses and a competitor of Google has financially supported the study. In the past, Yelp had already pointed out Google’s illegal search results.

Yelp, thus is one of the complainants which encouraged the European Commission’s antitrust investigation into Google’s search practices. Further, the data analysts from Yelp helped the researchers with the appropriate data required for the study.

The study revealed some shocking evidences which proved that Google ‘cheated in general search results’ by giving preference to its own product which could in some cases even harm the users. The researchers mentioned: “This suggests that by leveraging dominance in search to promote its internal content, Google is reducing social welfare—leaving consumers with lower quality results and worse matches.”

Researchers Wu and Luca added: “Such conduct therefore cannot be described as pro-­competitive.”

The study revealed  that 45 percent of users would prefer to click on search results that are organically generated by Google’s search engine rather than depending on the general results displayed by Google, where it is partial towards its own content.

The Antitrust Enforcement Symposium was held at the University of Oxford in the U.K., last week and it was during this event that Yelp presented its study as informed by a spokeswoman for the university. She also mentioned that the findings of the study was sent to the European Commission on Friday; however the Commission refused to comment on the study.

Researchers considered a data which was based on the click survey of 2690 users who had taken part in comparative tests of search result presentation. This presentation further had two versions of the search result for local business searches. The data used for study comprised of one- third of desktop search volume and the remaining was obtained from smartphone searches.

As per researchers, Google’s classic local search result displays a list of seven business pins that usually populates from its specialized search services such as Google+ Local and travel in relation to a map. As per Google it blends the results received from  its own specialized search engines with that of the general searches which it terms as “universal search”.

During the study, researchers used a browser plug-in which displayed a map and a list of search results that included Google’s own organic algorithm as well as links from third party review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp.

By using the alternative version, researchers tried to determine which version would deliver the most appropriate information for the query raised.

Based on their study, researchers found that 32 percent of users would click on Google’s current local results whereas 47 percent would click on the alternative search results. The result thus pointed out that there was almost 50 percent increase in the click through rate which was a considerable difference in the modern Web industry.

Researchers added: “Google appears to be strategically deploying universal search in a way that degrades the product so as to slow and exclude challengers to its dominant search paradigm.”

The study also indicated that Google favoring its own services is not that bad. For instance, when it comes to displaying time or presenting a calculator, researchers found this does not harm consumers, on the contrary, users prefer the presence of calculator on top of a search result page.

On the other hand, when requested for a comment, Google did not respond.  However, it has been observed that Google always denies that it violates the European antitrust rules.

Way back in 2010, complaints from the competitors actually forced the Commission to open its antitrust investigation into Google’s search practices.

It was in April, when Google was charged on account of abusing its dominant market position as a search provider. The Commission had then said Google violated European antitrust rules by consistently favoring its own shopping product over the competing services, such a practice would not only hurt consumers but also suppresses competition.

Earlier this month, the Commission has sent the complainants a heavily redacted version of the Statement of Objections which it sent to Google in April. Further, the complainants have been given four weeks to give their views on the charges and also send in extra evidences.

Google has yet to respond to the Commission’s charges. It seems Google could be fined up to 10 percent of its annual revenue.

For now, the European Commission has declined to comment on the ongoing investigation and one official also said that there is no timetable as such to decide on antitrust investigations as if depends on lots of factors.

Meanwhile, it seems now the Commission has also opened its antitrust investigation against Google with regards to its deploying the apps in Android OS.

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