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Google defends search business against accusations voiced in Wall Street Journal

Google has hit back at accusations from shopping site Nextag that it is manipulating search results to favour its own products and effectively becoming a "brand killer."

"While we're always happy to have feedback about how we can improve, it's more useful if that feedback is based on facts," Amit Singhal, senior vice president of engineering at Google, wrote in a blog post.

Singal penned his post after Jeffrey Katz, CEO of Nextag, wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that accused Google of spending years trying to "monopolise every avenue through which a company can reach users online - whether it is through search, advertising, email, mobile devices or browsers."

Katz was most irked by updates to Google's search algorithms that pushed results for Nextag further down the page. One of the more prominent changes to Google's results, an effort dubbed Panda, occurred in February 2011. Google said the update was intended to reduce rankings for low-quality sites, sometimes known as content farms. The search giant said the changes would impact about 11.8 per cent of Google's queries, and executives acknowledged that not everyone would be pleased by the update.

In recent years, Google has updated search results to provide more than just links. If you search for an address, for example, you'll get results from Google Maps. Search for the latest blockbuster movie and get movie times. Ask when a celebrity was born, and Google might just give you the answer atop its results.

On that point, Singal said today that "we believe that our users are often best served by providing better answers directly in search results."

Rivals, however, claim that Google results heavily favour its own products - Google Place Pages over Yelp or Google Shopping over Nextag, for example - or those of its top advertisers. Google has denied any wrongdoing, but America's Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is currently investigating Google's business practices, while the US Senate's antitrust panel asked Google to explain itself in a hearing last year. Katz also appeared at that hearing to voice concerns similar to those in his op-ed.

According to Katz, "Google has become a brand killer." When called to defend its practices, "Google hides behind forked-tongued gobbledygook that is meant to obfuscate," he wrote.

Katz pointed to Joaquín Almunia, vice president of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy, who recently called on Google to change parts of its business by July 2 in order to avoid antitrust action.

Katz had a few suggestions of his own. He asked that Google: be more transparent about how its search engine operates; provide consumers with unbiased search results; and grant all companies equal access to ad opportunities, even if they are rivals.

In his response, Singal said Google already does those things.

"It's understandable that every website believes that it is the best, and wants to rank at the top of Google results," Singal said. "The great thing about the openness of the Internet is that if users don't find our results relevant and useful, they can easily navigate to Nextag, Amazon, Yelp, Bing or any other website."

A spokesman for Katz said he would not be commenting on the Google blog post.

Google's ongoing difficulties with competition regulators is hardly confined to the US and Europe - ITProPortal recently reported on Mountain View's Seoul offices being raided by the South Korean authorities in response to Android-related accusations.