New Consumer Study Comes Out Swinging at Google's Search Results

"Google is reducing social welfare." Robert Scoble

Google’s top results are not always great for consumers, according to a new study by Harvard Business School researchers Michael Luca and Tim Wu — who has famously championed net neutrality as far back as 2003 — Columbia Law as well as Yelp researchers (which, caveat here, Yelp has no bigger competitor than Google).

The main thrust of the report, as the authors declare in the opening paragraph, is that the search behemoth is “reducing social welfare” every time it puts its interests before those of the people who use it. Google can do good, as the authors point out — if a search for 2 + 2 gives a result of 4, or a query for “calculator” brings up at calculator that more than 90 percent of people will then use. But take the issue of searchers on the hunt for something: When the study authors analyzed the way 2,690 people click, the researchers found that people were 45 percent more likely to click on the results if those were merit-based, using Google’s algorithm, rather than the inorganic results Google actually gave.

“[I]t should not be difficult to conclude that Google is sacrificing product quality in the pursuit of the exclusion of its competitors,” the authors write.

It’s a similar sentiment to charges Google faces from the European Commission, which argued that shopping search results are skewed. Google must reply to the EU by August 17.

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