An influential recent study of internet openness found that Google favors its own results in the search engine, limiting users' reach and reducing the quality of their searches overall.
Tim Wu, who created the phrase, “net neutrality,” co-authored the study, the data for which was supplied by Yelp. Wu concluded 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.”
Google’s position as the top search engine costs too much, the study says: “Google is – in some instances – actually making its overall product worse for users in order to provide favorable treatment to Google content.”
Random trials were conducted, with users seeing Google results that promoted its own products, like its local search. Others saw third-party results from Yelp and others, which scored higher than Google rankings.
This was done with a Googe Chrome plugin and an added string: “site:yelp.com OR site:zocdoc.com OR site:tripadvisor.com OR ...”.
There were 45% more users who clicked on third-party results.
Researchers said consumers are harmed when this happens. Yet it is much more profitable when Google shows simple results.
However, researchers also said Google was altering consumer access to its competitors, which customers seem to dislike overall. This supports testing Google did secretly a few years ago, the results of which were revealed by accident in response to a request from the Wall Street Journal, and went to the Federal Trade Commission.
Those tests also proved that users preferred third-party content to Google’s. Some of Google’s services resemble third-party sites, but are just paid placements, like Google shopping.
This is ironic, since Google promised not to promote its own content.
Larry Page once famously told Playboy that, "Most portals show their own content above content elsewhere on the web. We feel that’s a conflict of interest, analogous to taking money for search results ... a search engine doesn’t necessarily provide the best results; it provides the portal’s results. Google conscientiously tries to stay away from that. We want to get you out of Google and to the right place as fast as possible. It’s a very different model."
The new study isn't the only one to conclude that Google is cheating consumers, other search engines and publishers by promoting its own content within search results. As we've covered previously the EU is set to level a massive fine at Google for these very practices.