The Wall Street Journal today published a report highlighting an investigation done by the Federal Trade Commission that began in early 2013. The investigation centered around how Google skewed search results in an effort to promote its own services over competitors. Google, according to the FTC report, was accused of boosting its services for shopping, travel, and local businesses.
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Google, for instance, would promote results from its own flight-finding service over others, even though it offered fewer flight options and details. Google was also found to be ranking its own shopping results above others, despite the fact that users didn’t click-through to them at the same rate.
Many of the tools Google uses to rank third-party sites don’t apply to its own sites, the FTC report claimed. Generally, ranking factors included the number of links that point to a site and click-through rates. Google, fearing that its sites would rank relatively low in results, didn’t apply these standards to itself. These actions, in turn, often demoted third-party sites. Google even went as far as to find a list of comparison shopping sites that competed with Google Shopping and demoted them from the top 10 web results.
The investigation also addressed claims that Google was copying reviews from consumer review service Yelp for its own service, in an effort to give it more validity. Another instance similar to this comes in the allegation that Google copied information from Amazon on how well products were selling and used that data in its own services. Since the FTC probe, Google has stopped these scraping practices, but not its other tactics.
Despite all of these allegations and findings, however, the FTC decided that there was no reason to take action against Google. In a statement, Google General Counsel Kent Walker said the following:
“After an exhaustive 19-month review, covering nine million pages of documents and many hours of testimony, the FTC staff and all five FTC Commissioners agreed that there was no need to take action on how we rank and display search results.”
These efforts, of course, paid off for Google and improved its own web traffic, while decreasing traffic to other sites. Google is no longer being monitored by the FTC for its search algorithms.
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