Those of you who’ve followed this blog and Jeremy Pickens’ blog will recall his many comments about Google’s un-Googly behavior. Recently, Benjamin Edelman actually tested the hypothesis about Google injecting bias into organic results. His post details several kinds of queries that don’t produce organic results. Which ones? Ones that are related to Google properties such as finance, health, and travel. While it’s clear why Google pushes its own properties, it seems that this behavior is inconsistent with the image it tries to project.
He also draws an interesting parallel to the airline industry:
I am struck by similarities between the favored treatment Google gives its own services and the favored treatment airlines previously gave their own flights in customer reservation systems (CRS’s) they respectively owned. For example, when travel agents searched for flights through Apollo, a CRS then owned by United Airlines, United flights would come up first — even if other carriers offered lower prices or nonstop service. The Department of Justice intervened, culminating in the rules prohibiting any CRS owned by an airline from ordering listings “us[ing] any factors directly or indirectly relating to carrier identity” (14 CFR 255). The same principle applies here: Google ought not rank results by any metric that distinctively favors Google.
It’s interesting to see how Google’s behavior has been changed by the power it has accrued over the last few years. It’ll be interesting to see if Google gets threatened with antitrust legislation. There are arguments for and against this possibility. Microsoft’s case can be seen as a precedent of sorts, both for governments going after large software corporations, and for the tactics that such corporations can use to avoid significant repercussions.
Finally, it should be pointed out that not all such meddling in organic search results by Google is undesirable. Jason Kottke explains.