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Is Google Skewing Search Results To Their Favor?

June 29, 2015 - Written By Cory McNutt

In our busy lifestyles today, we rely a lot on the information highway to keep us informed and to make a quick decision when looking for an eating-place or in an emergency to find the best pediatrician in our area.  Google is the number one source users turn to when conducting these types of searches.  The former is no big deal if Google’s search algorithms slant the result a bit, but when it comes to the latter, parents want the best information they can find…not what Google’s G+ recommends.  That is exactly what is happening according to a paper co-authored by Tim Wu who popularized the concept of Net Neutrality, Michael Luca of the Harvard Business School and the Yelp Data Science Team.

We must point out from the beginning that Yelp paid both Wu and co-author Luca for their time, although Wu claims that he is basing his conclusions on the results of this study.  Yelp themselves have also been ‘under the microscope‘ in the past for allowing fake negative reviews in order to squeeze more advertising revenue out of those businesses.  However, Wu claims that by Google favoring its own Google+ results over others, such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and others, “Google is reducing social welfare – leaving consumers with lower quality results and worse matches.”  It makes you wonder with all of the controversy surrounding input from users, where you can really go to get the best answer to your search question.

Google’s defense claims that they have developed a better product and are constantly making changes to improve their products – Eric Schmidt said recently “your search just gets better and better over time,” and even Wu will agree with him for some instances, “such as displaying time or presenting a calculator to arithmetic problems.”  When there is simply a right or wrong answer, then Google’s universal search is fine, however, when the question is more opinionated, such as, what is the best doctor to see, the user would want to rely more heavily from other, more authoritative sources other than Google+ results.  The reason these ‘local content’ searches are so important is that 50-percent of the searches on a mobile devices and 33-percent on a PC are ‘local content’ searches and it is here that Wu claims is where the searcher may not get the best results.

Wu sums up stating the Universal Search “was at minimum a two-edged instrument.  It has been, at times, deployed in a way that benefits consumers.  But everything also points to the use of the same instrument, in at least some areas, to exclude competitors at the expense of consumers, a finding that must be taken seriously.”  For his complete report click on the source below.