Google Algorithm Helps Amazon Over Small Competitors: Report

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demonstrates the Kindle Paperwhite during Amazon's Kindle Fire event in Santa Monica, California September 6, 2012.
November 15, 2019 Topic: Politics Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: Big TechSilicon ValleyMonopolyAlgorithmJeff Bezos

Google Algorithm Helps Amazon Over Small Competitors: Report

It hasn't endeared them to politicians.

Google makes algorithmic changes to help larger corporations over smaller ones and the mega search engine boosted Amazon and Facebook, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing inside sources.

The company made algorithmic changes to its search results that favored fellow big tech giants, according to the report, which relied on an analysis of the company’s system and interviews with sources. Google believes customers prefer products from larger outlets, the report notes.

The move to tilt algorithms toward monster corporations, which was a hotly discussed decision inside the company, boosted Amazon’s products, even if such items were discontinued, the report notes, citing sources.

Google pushed back on TheWSJ’s representation of its algorithms.  “It’s inaccurate to suggest we did not address issues like discontinued products appearing high up in results,” Lara Levin, the spokeswoman, told reporters.

Google also takes measures to help Silicon Valley giants Facebook and Amazon appear more often in search results, one source told TheWSJ.

“There’s this idea that the search algorithm is all neutral and goes out and combs the web and comes back and shows what it found, and that’s total BS,” the former executive said. “Google deals with special cases all the time.”

Levin addressed that issue, too.

“We prioritize issues based on impact, not any commercial relationships,” she said, noting that the search team does not seek to provide specialized guidance to website owners. Faster indexing of a site does not guarantee more results, Levin added.

TheWSJ report also highlighted several examples where Google shut off a company’s lifeline. Online marketer eBay, for instance saw a $200 million hit on its revenue in 2014 after Google lowered the ranking of several of eBay pages that provided traffic to eBay.

Executives decided to pressure Google, with employees meeting with search engineers, the report notes.

Google agreed to improve rankings as eBay worked to make its pages more “useful and relevant,” sources told TheWSJ. The corrections did not prevent Google from later levelling more demotions on eBay, the report notes.

TheWSJ report dovetails with an exclusive the Daily Caller broke in April in which documents showed Google employed two official policies called the “misrepresentation policy” and the “good neighbor policy” that informed the company’s “XPA news blacklist.”

“The deceptive_news domain blacklist is going to be used by many search features to filter problematic sites that violate the good neighbor and misrepresentation policies,” the policy document states, according to the TheDC’s report.

WSJ’s Friday report will not tamp down calls from Democrats and Republicans to investigate Google.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for instance, released a plan in March to impose new rules on tech companies with $25 billion or more in annual ad revenue, forcing Amazon and Google to dramatically reduce their hold on online commerce. She announced her bid to run against President Donald Trump in February.

Trump is also a critic of Google and other tech companies. He laid into CEO Sundar Pichai in August after a company insider claimed at the time that the tech giant is preparing to foil the president’s reelection bid.

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Image: Reuters.