New research claims that Google(GOOG) is gaming its search results in its own favor to the detriment of competitors.
Google has “increasingly developed and promoted its own content as an alternative to results from other web sites,” according to the report co-authored by Michael Luca, a Harvard Business School economist, Tim Wu and the Yelp Data Science team.
And yes, Yelp(YELP), which lists reviews of businesses, is a competitor that has cried foul over Google search results in the past. Perhaps more to the point, Tim Wu is a former advisor to the Federal Trade Commission, which settled a suit with Google in 2013. In January 2013, Wu defended the FTC’s decision to settle, writing that Google won search results because it was a better search engine, not because of its wealth and influence in Silicon Valley and Washington D.C. power corridors, according to Re/Code.
Wu has changed his mind about that, citing changes in how Google search works.
He told Re/Code:
“The main surprising and shocking realization is that Google is not presenting its best product. In fact, it’s presenting a version of the product that’s degraded and intentionally worse for consumers … This is the closest I’ve seen Google come to [being] the Microsoft case.”
Those are very strong words. In 2001, a federal judge ruled that Microsoft(MSFT) acted in anti-competitive ways by parlaying its monopoly power in Windows into other areas of computing, namely web browsers. That judgement was thrown out on appeal, in part because the judge talked to the media while still hearing the case.
This new Yelp-backed research comes at a touchy time for Google which faces an antitrust investigation by the European Union. Microsoft might be happy to hear about another company feeling the anti-trust heat with the added bonus that if Google has to jump through regulatory hoops in search, Microsoft Bing search could reap the rewards.
Google said these claims from Yelp are not new. “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 results for our users,” a Google spokesperson said via email.
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This story was updated at 10:28 p.m. EST with Google’s comments.