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FTC: Google Favored Its Own Shopping Service in Search Results

No one is immune to the impact of accidentally shared digital content, be it a beautiful celebrity or in this case the world’s dominant search advertising platform. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had been investigating potential antitrust issues regarding Google, but any public disclosure of that review likely paled in comparison to information the Wall Street Journal inadvertently received from that agency.

EcommerceBytes reached out to Google for its opinion on these disclosures; we didn’t receive a response by publication time. Likewise, EcommerceBytes contacted a couple of other prominent businesses in related industries, and both declined comment.

Excerpts published by the WSJ Digits blog detail findings by FTC investigators. They appear to pose serious concerns for sites like Yelp and CitySearch, as well as rival comparison shopping engine businesses:

“Google took unusual steps to “automatically boost the ranking of its own vertical properties above that of competitors,” the report said. “For example, where Google’s algorithms deemed a comparison shopping website relevant to a user’s query, Google automatically returned Google Product Search – above any rival comparison shopping websites.

The report said Google was “in the unique position of being able to make or break any web-based business.” Google’s prominent placement of its own properties and demotion of rival sites in its search results “has resulted in significant loss of traffic to many competing vertical websites.”

The FTC staff found that, to improve Google’s shopping results, Google scraped ratings and user reviews from Amazon.com ‘s site. It also used Amazon’s product rankings to determine the order in which to rank products within Google Product Search.

In recent times Google has undertaken other efforts to bolster its shopping results with ratings content. Back in 2013, Google and StellaSERVICE reached an agreement where Google would license ratings and performance data to use with its Shopping content.

Any potential legal action against Google would face a considerable challenge. Though staffers in the FTC report recommended such a course, they acknowledged “substantial risks” in doing so.

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David A Utter
David A Utter
David A. Utter is a freelance writer based in Lexington, KY. He has covered technology topics from search to security to online business and has been quoted in places like ZDNet and BusinessWeek. He considers his appearance on NPR's "All Things Considered" with long-time host Robert Siegel a delightful highlight. You can find him on Twitter @davidautter and on LinkedIn.