Study By Former FTC Advisor Tim Wu Claims Google Local Search Results Violate Competition Laws

June 29, 2015

The Wall Street Journal reports researchers from Columbia Law School and Harvard University Business School claim Google is degrading its search results by delivering self-promoted content over results based on relevancy.

Sponsored by Yelp, a complainant listed in the EU’s antitrust case against Google, the study was conducted by former FTC advisor Tim Wu from Columbia Law School and Harvard Business School’s Michael Luca.

The two researchers surveyed 2,500 Internet users, randomly delivering two sets of results for local-intent searches to determine which links users preferred. One page showed search results ranked purely on relevancy using Google’s algorithm, with links from review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor prominently displayed. The other page served up results currently displayed by Google with its own services given preference.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Wu and Luna’s research revealed a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of clicks on the results ranked by relevancy.

“The survey found 32 percent of users would click on Google’s current local results, while 47 percent click on the alternative merit-based results. That near-50 percent increase in clicks is “immense in the modern Web industry” the authors wrote.

The Wall Street Journal says the researchers believe their findings suggest Google is harming users and violating competition laws. “By leveraging dominance in search to promote its internal content, Google is reducing social welfare – leaving consumers with lower quality results and worse matches,” claim Wu and Luca in their study.

The Wall Street Journal did say Wu and Luca admitted differences between their click surveys and Google’s actual search results, but that the two cross-checked their results using Yelp-data, and found their findings offered a “reasonable estimate” for user behavior.

(By Amy Gesenhues – Search Engine Land)