google-mobile-smartphones-blue-ss-1920-800x450There is a report from the Wall Street Journal that tells of researchers from Columbia University and Harvard Business School who claim that Google is delivering a “degraded version of its search engine,” which outranks its own services over more relevant results for local searches on restaurants and hotels.

In a study sponsored by Yelp (who is one of the listed complainant companies in the EU antitrust case against Google) Tim Wu, a former FTC advisor from Columbia Law School and Harvard Business School’s Michael Luca found that users were more likely to click on results ranked by relevancy if given the option, rather than results that gave preference to content promoted by Google.

2,500 Internet users were surveyed by Wu and Luca, randomly delivering two different sets of results for local-intent searches to determine which links where going to be chosen among those surveyed.  One page showed results that ranked purely on relevancy using Google’s algorithm, including links from review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.  The other page included results with preferences by Google’s own services.

According the survey results, there was a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of clicks on the results ranked by relevancy.

The survey found 32 percent of users would click on Google’s current local results, while 47 percent click on the alternative merit-based results. That near-50 percent increase in clicks is “immense in the modern Web industry” the authors wrote.
— Wall Street Journal

According to the WSJ, Wu and Luca feel that the research suggests Google is harming users and violating laws.

Wu and Luca said:

“By leveraging dominance in search to promote its internal content, Google is reducing social welfare – leaving consumers with lower quality results and worse matches.”

It seems that this study could easily, and will be utilized by the EU as they continue to build its antitrust case against Google.  The EU will be leveraging a deterrent-sized fine against Google, due to unfair search results that is related to Google’s comparison-shopping product.

Getty Images was added as an interested third party in the EU’s case last week, claiming that Google was using images owned by Getty to help build its own image search vertical.

If interested, Wu and Luca’s study can be viewed here: “Is Google Degrading Search?”

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