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New Empirical Report Erodes Support for Claims of Google's Search Bias PDF Print E-mail
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A new report titled "Defining and Measuring Search Bias: Some Preliminary Evidence" has just been released.

Google has been the subject of persistent claims that its organic search results are improperly “biased” toward its own content. Among the most influential is an empirical study released earlier this year by Benjamin Edelman and Benjamin Lockwood, claiming that Google favors its own content “significantly more than others.” The authors conclude in their study that Google’s search results are problematic and deserving of antitrust scrutiny because of competitive harm.

A new report released by the International Center for Law & Economics and authored by Joshua Wright, Professor of Law and Economics at George Mason University, critiques, replicates, and extends the study, finding Edelman & Lockwood’s claim of Google’s unique bias inaccurate and misleading. Although frequently cited for it, the Edelman & Lockwod study fails to support any claim of consumer harm -- or call for antitrust action -- arising from Google’s practices.

Prof. Wright’s analysis finds own-content bias is actually an infrequent phenomenon, and Google references its own content more favorably than other search engines far less frequently than does Bing:

  • In the replication of Edelman & Lockwood, Google refers to its own content in its first page of results when its rivals do not for only 7.9% of the queries, whereas Bing does so nearly twice as often (13.2%).
  • Again using Edelman & Lockwood’s own data, neither Bing nor Google demonstrates much bias when considering Microsoft or Google content, respectively, referred to on the first page of search results.
  • In our more robust analysis of a large, random sample of search queries we find that Bing generally favors Microsoft content more frequently—and far more prominently—than Google favors its own content.
  • Google references own content in its first results position when no other engine does in just 6.7% of queries; Bing does so over twice as often (14.3%).

The results suggest that this so-called bias is an efficient business practice, as economists have long understood, and consistent with competition rather than the foreclosure of competition. One necessary condition of the anticompetitive theories of own-content bias raised by Google’s rivals is that the bias must be sufficient in magnitude to exclude rival search engines from achieving efficient scale. A corollary of this condition is that the bias must actually be directed toward Google´s rivals. That Google displays less own-content bias than its closest rival, and that such bias is nonetheless relatively infrequent, demonstrates that this condition is not met, suggesting that intervention aimed at “debiasing” would likely harm, rather than help, consumers.

The full report is available here. Please This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it if you are interested in speaking with Professor Wright about the report or would like a comment on the pending antitrust probe.