Google has long been accused on favoring its own businesses in its search rankings and other policies, and there is significant evidence that the tech titan has subtly tweaked its Google Search algorithms so as to derank competitors.
To date, the changes to Google Search have been incremental and hard to pin down as bias, but that all changed over the weekend as the firm’s latest “code push” clearly prioritizes Google’s own local search above all others even when the query specifically mentioned a rival company such as Yelp and Trip Advisor.
Google Search’s “code push” an accident or over the top move to grab more web traffic?
While the changes to Google Search certainly seem like an aggressive move on Google’s part to seize traffic from competitors despite the fact users clearly intended to visit a particular site, the firm claims that this is not the case.
“The issues cited were caused by a recent code push, which we’re working quickly to fix,” a Google spokeswoman told the media on Tuesday.
Others industry experts, however, scoffed at the idea the changes were due to a bug. Travis Katz, CEO of local search firm Gogobot, pointed out that the change didn’t affect his company, or Foursquare, another site operating in the same space. Katz says that means it is “unlikely this is a bug”.
Jeremy Stoppelman, the co-founder and CEO of Yelp, tweeted that Google sounded “about as truthful as [Donald] Trump.”
This search-related controversy comes at a difficult time for the company. Google is under investigation by EU regulators regarding similar accusations of favoritism for its shopping search product, and the EC has dropped several hints that that investigation is likely to grow to include local search in the future.
Moreover, Yelp has lobbied for several years to try and get U.S. regulators to investigate the search giant, but Google’s army of well-funded lobbyists has kept the regulators at bay. This summer, Yelp published a detailed report with multiple examples of how Google manipulated searches to promote its own products and services.