Google harms consumers and itself by promoting its own content

Posted Jun 29, 2015 by James Walker
A new study has concluded that Google harms consumers by filtering search results so that listings for its own services are promoted to the tops of pages. It adds more fuel to the EU's recent accusation of Google engaging in anticompetitive practices.
The EU formally charged US Internet giant Google with abusing its search engine's dominance
The EU formally charged US Internet giant Google with abusing its search engine's dominance
Damien Meyer, AFP/File
Researchers at the Harvard Business School and Columbia Law School looked in particular at Google's search results for "local services" such as shops and restaurants in a town. The search engine should return the most relevant results to a user but found that it actually always favours its own regional offerings above the true "local" facilities.
Neowin writes that the Wall Street Journal reports how the study found that users "overwhelmingly" preferred to see legitimate, relevance-ranked results though. It concluded it has found "empirical evidence" that Google's promotion of its own services has harmed consumers in some circumstances.
The Register says 45 percent of users clicked on results when third-party content was more prominently displayed than Google's own services. The listings were manipulated by the study authors by adding special "site" parameters to the search query so that third-party sites could be boosted to the top of the page.
Tim Wu, one of the report's co-authors, said Google is "reducing social welfare" by using its rankings to advertise itself. Wu coined the term "net neutrality" and says that Google is "actually making its overall product worse for users in order to provide favourable treatment to Google content."
This proves a key point of the EU's argument in its stance against Google. It has been trying to show that Google has harmed consumers with its anticompetitive actions, something which this study appears to indicate has indeed occurred.
Neowin notes that the study was funded by Yelp who itself claims to have had its business directly affected by Google and its actions. The EU is still likely to heed the evidence in the report though. It will likely be used alongside its own independent investigations into the U.S. search giant.