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That bad lunch you had could be Google’s fault

Google’s in a spot of bother over its search engine yet again, as new research suggests it could be harming consumers with the way it displays search results.

It was charged back in April for promoting its own shopping aggregation service over other results, but this latest study (via WSJ) focuses on local search results instead.

That’s the type you get when searching for a good place for a spot of lunch in London, for example.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Google often presents a table of restaurants based on Google reviews at the top of search results, just below paid-for ads. This pushes the organic results – pages that rank highly without paying for it – much lower.

The research showed that users are almost 50 per cent more likely to click on a result from Tripadvisor or Yelp on a merit-based search result page, as opposed to Google’s current results – where it’s own services are given pride of place.

Both pages were randomly displayed to 2,500 users and both were based on Google’s search algorithm. It argues that those results are better than Google’s own recommendations.

“Stated simply, when it comes to local search, Google is presenting its users with a degraded version of its search engine,” wrote the authors.

The study, which also included economic analysis and legal insight, gets worse for Google.

The report continues: “… by leveraging dominance in search to promote its internal content, Google is reducing social welfare—leaving consumers with lower quality results and worse matches,” the authors wrote. And that the “empirical evidence” on offer “cannot be described as pro-competitive.”

It’s important to note that the study was conducted by prominent academics in the US – Michael Luka of
Harvard and Tim Wu of Columbia – and was sponsored by Yelp, one of the
companies unhappy about the way Google promotes its local results when
people use its search engine.

Related: Best Android Apps 2015

The results provide “empirical evidence” that Google’s practice of promoting its own results have harmed consumers in some cases and therefore “cannot be described as pro-competitive.”

“The demonstration of consumer harm is, we think, an important conclusion…that should influence any competition law analysis,” the study concludes.

Have you had a bad experience based on a Google recommendation? Let us know in the comments.

If your Google-sourced lunches have been divine and you’ve still got love for the big G, why not check out our Nexus 6 smartphone review too?

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