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Google Argues Study Showing Biased Search Results

Two academics recently published a study — based on data provided by Yelp — suggesting that Google designed its search algorithm to highlight its own content rather than offer users the best matches for their search terms. Google came out swinging on Tuesday, denying the charges and claiming that the study was flawed because the Yelp data was “cherry-picked”.

More on Google rebuttal of new study

The study was undertaken by Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu and Harvard Business School professor Michael Luca, and was presented at the Antitrust Enforcement Symposium in Oxford, UK on Saturday. The study found that for 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.”

Universal search is the term Google’s method of blending in specialized content from company services such as Google Maps, Flights and Google+ Local, with organic search results from its website index. Yelp and many other content and search providers have argued for some time that the firm uses universal search so as to make Google content show up ahead of third-party content.

Google denies these charges, in specific in this case, the firm contends the study is conceptually flawed as it is based on “cherry-picked” data. The search giant’s statement said that the study is just another example of Yelp’s constant effort to get better rankings in its search results.

Statement from Google

“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 noted in an email sent to media sources. “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.”

Back in April, Google published a blog explaining how 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,” Google Search SVP Amit Singhal commented in the blog post. “But their traffic, revenues, and profits (as well as the pitch they make to investors) tell a very different story.”