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Google blames coding error for downgrading search competitors

Google has blamed a coding error for the way in which its search rankings discriminate against rivals Yelp and TripAdvisor.

Executives at both companies used Twitter to express their disappointment that Google promoted its own local search service, even when queries directly referenced competitors.

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Yelp’s co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman showed that when searching for “Yelp” followed by a name of a local restaurant, users were met with Google’s own results first. They had to scroll down the page before finding the Yelp website. Stoppelman tweeted that web search results were “becoming a dirty business of burying your competition.”

However, in dialogue with Recode, Google has defended its actions, attributing them to a simple glitch.

“The issues cited were caused by a recent code push, which we’re working quickly to fix,” explained a Google spokeswoman.

However, Google’s explanation is not convincing everyone. The chief executive of Gogobot, another local search company, noted that a bug was unlikely to be behind the results, as both his company and Foursquare were unaffected. It is also not the first time that Google has been accused of prioritising its own services.

The search engine giant is currently being investigated by the European Union over claims that its search rankings favour its own shopping results. It has been suggested that the EU case could expand to include local search results, so it is hardly surprising that Yelp is pushing for US authorities to take similar action. In fact, Yelp produced an internal dossier late last year that claimed Google’s search results were harming competition.

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It is likely that Google will need to tweak its search algorithm to avoid damaging its reputation and also because, as Stoppelman says in another tweet, when one company monopolises the market, “everybody loses.”