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Does Google Favor Google in Search Results?

Did Google manipulate search results in favor of their own properties? That’s the conclusion the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) came to in a confidential 2013 investigation that’s just now coming to light.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Google routinely demoted page rankings for travel and shopping sites that were direct competitors to its own commerce sites.

The report, which was supposed to be confidential but was somehow included in an unrelated Open Records request, also accused Google of engaging in a practice you and I would be hung out to dry for…content scraping.

Incredible as it may seem, the world’s largest search engine routinely copied content from other sites to use in its specialized search pages. For example, Google routinely used copy from Amazon on its product ranking searches, without the company’s permission.

Google also routinely changed up its algorithm in order to boost up its own products. In this case, they might dismiss ranking factors like click-through rates if it helped boost Google shopping pages over competitor pages.

Not surprisingly, Google executives brushed off the report. The company’s General Counsel, Kent Walker told the Wall Street Journal:

After an exhaustive 19-month review, covering nine million pages of documents and many hours of testimony, the FTC staff and all five FTC Commissioners agreed that there was no need to take action on how we rank and display search results.

Though FTC investigators found ample evidence of Google’s manipulation of search results and monopolistic behavior, they declined to file an anti-trust suit.

Walker did tell the WSJ that Google makes hundreds of algorithm changes a year, and it’s possible that the company has tweaked them just enough to avoid major litigation.

As it stands, anyone who was accused of being a tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist who thought Google was pushing down their web properties has been thoroughly vindicated.