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Does Google Manipulate Search Results? This Harvard-Columbia Study Cries Foul

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By P.V. Durga:

While Google is known primarily as a search engine, it has increasingly developed and promoted its own content as an alternative to results from other websites. This revelation comes from a study conducted by researchers at Harvard Business School and Colombia Law School, published by the Yelp data science team. Yelp, the company that provides business ratings and reviews has been crying foul for quite some time.

Image credit: Baiduri's Blog
Image credit: Baiduri’s Blog

While this might seem like a case of warring businesses washing dirty linen in public, it has an effect on consumers too. Our searches on Google might not get the optimal results, because Google is promoting its less popular Google Reviews on the page. At the same time, even the merchants are being denied the prospect of selling best results.

Here is how it works. Every time you type something in the search box, Google displays “organic” results, which means that they are generated according to the ranking algorithms of a search engine and not according to paid placements by advertisers. Yelp complained that Google had been placing its unpopular reviews and Google+ links higher up in the page, and unfairly promoting them as against those of Yelp and Tripadvisor, which are pushed to the bottom of the page. Therefore, the organic results are biased towards Google’s own links and sites. Yelp also released a document stating that Google was tapping away about 20% of the clicks from the search engine traffic.

Considering the fact that Google dominates 90% of the search in Europe, we may imply that it could be exploiting its monopoly to dominate other companies. Reports claim that search and clicks are a crucial to sites such as Yelp because shoppers and diners who wish to buy something in future often visit Yelp. Google’s domination over this sphere means that Yelp is also losing the revenue that advertisers pay.

But all is not black and white. There are some subtle dimensions to this issue too. The document circulated within Yelp also acknowledged that Google still does send a majority of the searches to Yelp. So, Yelp does not have a problem with the fact that Google dominates the search. Rather, they are worried that by using its dominance, Google is distorting markets other than the search industry. Another dimension is the idea of “universal search” that is mentioned in the study. By nature, this excludes competitors in a specialized search, and therefore, has attracted a lot of scrutiny. Google defended itself, stating that it is “pro- competitive” and “serves the interests of the users”.

In September 2014, it was reported that the “rivals” of Google (including Yelp) had convinced the European Union and its antitrust chief to reopen its enquiry into the issue. The 4 year antitrust investigation was reopened because of the negativity in the response of the complainants. The process is still underway, and it is difficult to see how the problem would be solved. However, beyond the economics, it is a question of fairness, and the quality of service that Google provides its consumers with.

You must be to comment.
  1. Dave

    Yelp lists a business without their permission.
    Then Yelp places competitor adds on that listing.
    Using its massive SEO power, Yelp gets that link to rank higher than the business so a consumer sees it first.
    When a business contacts Yelp about how unfair this is, Yelp says they can purchase advertising at a rate that
    is 1000x the rate of Google.
    Not only that, when a user clicks on a Yelp link, there may be as many as 10 ads on the page which creates confusion
    and diminishes the user experience.

    What Yelp’s complaint amounts to is that it can’t extort businesses for advertising unless Google gives it free

    It seems to be a joke that Yelp can usurp 100,000 businesses and block then from Google access, but then Yelp claims this is wrong when it Google does it to them.

    Yelp has no right any listings on Yelp and because Google plus listings are free it is even better for businesses.

    The demotion of Yelp listings is actually an increase in quality for both the users and businesses.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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