Google skews re­sults, Yelp says

Los Angeles Times - - TECHNOLOGY - By Daina Beth Solomon daina. solomon @ latimes. com

An aca­demic study from Har­vard and Columbia univer­si­ties — and funded by Google com­peti­tor Yelp — found that Google dis­crim­i­nates against com­peti­tors in its search re­sults.

The study showed that Google fa­vors search re­sults that di­rect users to Google con­tent over re­sults that point to com­peti­tors such as Yelp and Or­b­itz, ac­cord­ing to one of the lead re­searchers, Tim Wu.

“What the data shows, is in the in­ter­est of an­ti­com­pet­i­tive be­hav­ior, maybe they’re hurt­ing con­sumers along the way,” Wu said. “It puts the grist in the mill for an an­titrust en­forcer.”

Google did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment, but a spokesper­son said in an April blog post that ri­val busi­nesses ap­peared to be thriv­ing, writ­ing “peo­ple have more choice than ever be­fore.”

Euro­pean in­ves­ti­ga­tors have been at work since April try­ing to de­ter­mine whether Google dis­torts search re­sults for its own ben­e­fit, push­ing out ri­vals in the process.

How­ever, a sim­i­lar in­quiry by the U. S. Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion into pos­si­ble an­titrust vi­o­la­tions was dropped in 2013.

Yelp said the new re­port, which it pre­sented to Euro­pean reg­u­la­tors Fri­day, could put pres­sure on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and en­cour­age ad­di­tional re­search.

“We be­lieve these rev­e­la­tions are timely given the ac­tive in­quiries into these very is­sues by an­titrust author­i­ties,” said Luther Lowe, Yelp’s vice pres­i­dent of public pol­icy.

But oth­ers said the re­port wouldn’t prompt se­ri­ous ac­tion, say­ing it did not prove a de­lib­er­ate ef­fort by Google to harm its ri­vals.

To con­duct the study, Wu and Michael Luca of the Har­vard Busi­ness School, work­ing along­side Yelp’s Data Science Team, set up two search en­gine sce­nar­ios.

One was the typ­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence on Google. com, which calls up a box list­ing lo­cal busi­nesses and their ad­dresses, which are marked on an ac­com­pa­ny­ing map. The links lead to in­for­ma­tion from Google+. The al­ter­na­tive mim­ics Google. com — but or­ders Google to search a va­ri­ety of re­view web­sites such as Yelp, Or­b­itz, Tri­pAd­vi­sor and FourSquare.

Test­ing 2,690 par­tic­i­pants, re­searchers found users were 45% more likely to en­gage with items pulled up by the al­ter­na­tive site with its broader fo­cus, rather than the tra­di­tional site with Google list­ings. This sug­gested to re­searchers that Google’s find­ings weren’t nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter than other op­tions.

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