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New Study Explains Why YouTube is Always at the Top of Google Search Results

June 29, 2015

For years now–since Imeem days at least–I’ve been wondering why it is that the top videos in Google search results were always from YouTube (or from Vevo through YouTube).  Like many others, including…let’s see…Senator Mike Lee and the European Commission for starters…I just assumed that Google was stacking the deck to favor YouTube, its wholly owned subsidiary.

According to Brad Stone writing in Bloomberg, a newly released study by Tim Wu (“Is Google Degrading Search?  Consumer Harm from Universal Search”) explains the phenomenon and further backs Google into an antitrust corner.  The study’s thesis is that “Google is able to leverage its dominance in search to gain customers for [Google’s competing] content.  This yield’s serious concerns if the internal content is inferior to organic search results.”  Brad Stone reported:

Google is facing a new high-profile adversary in the roiling fight over whether its monolithic search engine violates antitrust law: Columbia Law School professor and noted Internet theorist Tim Wu. The author of the influential book The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires co-wrote a paper asserting that Google is engaging in anticompetitive behavior by prominently serving up its own content, like restaurant reviews and doctors office phone numbers, in search results….The new study, which was presented at the Antitrust Enforcement Symposium in Oxford, U.K., over the weekend, says the content Google displays at the top of many search results pages is inferior to material on competing websites. For this reason, the paper asserts, the practice has the effect of harming consumers. Wu co-authored the study with Michael Luca, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, and data scientists at the local reviews site Yelp, which has been one of Google’s primary opponents in the global antitrust fight.

The Wall Street Journal’s Tom Fairless reported on the Tim Wu study saying:

[The study is a] potentially significant twist in Europe’s long-running antitrust investigation of the U.S. search giant….One official at a European antitrust authority, who declined to be named, said any study that showed Google caused ‘quantifiable harm’ to consumers would ‘certainly bring things forward’ for EU regulators.

I’ve been saying for quite some time that YouTube ought to be a prime target for the European Commission’s antitrust enforcers.  The Wu study provides further support for investigating YouTube’s business practices and the harm to consumers of providing inferior video search results.

The research seeks to undermine Google’s primary defense against the charges filed in Europe, where competition regulators have formally established a case that Google violates antitrust law.

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