Google Says Yelp-Backed Study Is Flawed - InformationWeek
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Google Says Yelp-Backed Study Is Flawed

Conflicting claims fly as European antitrust officials await a response to objections from Google.

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A research study conducted by two US academics and sponsored by Yelp asserts that Google is "making its overall [search] product worse for users in order to provide favorable treatment for Google content."

Yelp has been sparring with Google for years over Google's use of Yelp content in Google search results. Last year, it opposed Google's effort to settle charges brought by the European Commission that Google has abused its search industry dominance.

European competition officials contend that Google runs its search business in an anticompetitive manner. Google has made three efforts to propose settlement terms, but each has been rebuffed.

Separately, Google's handling of Android is also being investigated in Europe.

The study, based on data provided by Yelp, and conducted by Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu and Harvard Business School assistant professor Michael Luca, was presented at the Antitrust Enforcement Symposium in Oxford, UK, over the weekend. It finds that in local queries, "Google appears to be strategically employing universal search in a way that degrades the product so as to slow and exclude challengers to its dominant search paradigm."

[Oracle vs. Google lawsuit will return to court. See Google's Android Appeal Rejected By Supreme Court.]

Universal search refers to Google's practice of mingling specialized content from Google-operated services like Google Maps, Google Flights, and Google+ Local, with "organic" search results culled from its index of websites. Google's competitors argue that Google implements universal search in a way that favors Google content over third-party content.

Google contends the study is flawed and reflects Yelp's ongoing effort to secure more prominent placement in Google search results.

"This isn't new -- Yelp's been making these arguments to regulators, and demanding higher placement in search results, for the past five years," a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "This latest study is based on a flawed methodology that focuses on results for just a handful of cherry-picked queries. At Google we focus on trying to provide the best results for our users."

In April, in conjunction with the European Commission's formal Statement of Objections about Google's search business, Google published a blog post defending the way its search system works.

"Companies like Axel Springer, Expedia, TripAdvisor, and Yelp (all vociferous complainants in this process) have alleged that Google's practice of including our specialized results (Flight Search, Maps, Local results, etc.) in search has significantly harmed their businesses," said Google Search SVP Amit Singhal. "But their traffic, revenues, and profits (as well as the pitch they make to investors) tell a very different story."

Earlier this month Foundem, a UK-based search service, rebutted Google's claim that competition is thriving online, arguing that Google's charts disguise how the company's actions have affected competing search services. Foundem asserts that Google in recent years has seen a huge increase in traffic to its own sites while competitors have suffered.

According to Reuters, Google has until Aug. 17 to respond to European Commission charges.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
7/2/2015 | 8:30:32 AM
Re: Does it matter?
@jqb thanks for giving us the benefit of your experience. Once in a while I try Bing but don't find it markedly differently from Google.
jqb
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jqb,
User Rank: Strategist
7/1/2015 | 9:21:46 PM
Consider the source... "Yelp Sponsored"
I would take anything Yelp says with a gigantic grain of salt. Yelp is a very shady outfit, if you ask me. If you or your business ever gets a bad post on Yelp, and you contact them about it, out comes the hard sell to "get more positive reviews" by paying (in my opinion) extortion money.

JB

 
jqb
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jqb,
User Rank: Strategist
7/1/2015 | 9:18:28 PM
Re: Does it matter?
I have tried DuckDuckGo, and I consider it worse than Bing or Yahoo, I got more junk results with those two than Google. I went back to Google.

JB
Midnight
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Midnight,
User Rank: Strategist
7/1/2015 | 7:46:28 PM
Anticompetive behavior vs market forces
This is a discussion I have been waiting to see happen for years. The question is whether Google can control a market via a "free" (as in no cost to consumers) set of services it provides that can only be obtained by the consumer taking specific actions to choose to use the service, or are competitors complaining because the solutions they are presenting to consumers are inferior enough that the consumers do not trust them and are not willing to take the equal specific action steps to use their services.

This sooo reeks of "Atlas Shrugged" mentality in the veiled discussions and "studies" that the complaining companies would better serve themselves and consumers by studying what Google has done in the overall search "experience." To demand placement rank - whether deserved or not - is the same as K-mart demanding that it's products get equal shelf space in a Macy's store. Oh, and suing Macy's for not doing as they demand.

While I have my own issues with Google, I do have to give them the respect and praise for the R&D work they have been doing for decades on their products. If relative newcomers to the market have catch-up to do, well... welcome to the real world. To insist that a company degrades an offering it makes as a free service for all, just so your inferior product looks better, benefits no one.

Consumers choose what they like. If it's a "free" service they are merciless in expectations and quality. If you aren't chosen, then your only real option is to fix what your market does not like that may be as simple as a single color.

I say, "Go Google! Set the bar high and keep relevancy of results the only thing that matters. Make your competitors compete and improve their products."
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
7/1/2015 | 7:50:47 AM
Re: Does it matter?
@tzubair search is not as straight-forward as we think. I spoke at length with someone developing ways to make search more amenable to human search terms for ecommerce. He showed me how even a pretty basic search on a retailer's own site will be skewed by the brands that pay to be promoted. We ran bikini for beach on Target's site. The only swimsuits that came up were the ones under the Vanilla Beach label. Without that, similar searches turned up DVD titles and other stuff for all first page results. This is even the case on a landing page that promotes the bikinis for summer.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
7/1/2015 | 7:44:34 AM
Re: Funny
@mak63 Interesting. I've been meaning to check out DuckDuckGo. It's supposed not track your searches the way Google does.
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
6/30/2015 | 9:56:47 PM
Funny
I did four searches using the major search engines. Named, Bing, Google, Yahoo and I added DuckDuckGo. The queries were: News, Translate, Maps and the song Hurt by Christina Aguilera. The 3 major search engines gave me the same result on top, so did DuckDuckGo.
News: Google News
Translate: Google Translate
Maps Google Maps
Hurt: A video on Youtube
I'm not sure what to make of it.
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
6/30/2015 | 6:16:36 PM
Does it matter?
Does it really matter if Google promotes its own services on top? Out of the millions of searches made on Google, how many of these would require Google's own products/services to be placed on top - I think only a handful. If that's the case then I don't think there's any reason to blame Google for. It's a free search engine and if that's their model of generating revenue then so be it. 
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
6/30/2015 | 5:44:51 PM
Re: Use of polygraph can solve the problem
"The fact that Google is constantly tinkering with its algorithms to me has always indicated flaws and probable conflicts of interest, not improvements."

@Broadway: I think the fact that Google is constantly tinkering the algorithm is the reason why it has been so succesful in maintaining the lead for so many years. Other competitors have tried so hard to break the leadership but have failed. Google must be doing something right which has led this to happen.
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
6/30/2015 | 3:30:09 PM
Re: Use of polygraph can solve the problem
The fact that Google is constantly tinkering with its algorithms to me has always indicated flaws and probable conflicts of interest, not improvements. They are so intent on punishing those who appear to be gaming their system --- which usually suggests they themselves are gaming their own system. Take the example of the jealous lover. Usually an individual gets to be overly jealous over their partner, projecting fears and paranoia over cheating ... because he or she is cheating.
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