Can you trust Google’s search results?

Can you trust Google’s search results?
Like millions of people you probably use Google to search the web. Now a protracted scrap with rival companies has laid bare the bias in its search results

When you type a query into Google, you probably expect it to return the most useful, relevant results. But that isn’t the case. Having been threatened with a multi-billion euro fine for unfairly promoting its own services, Google is being forced to make some major changes.

You might not know it, but most of the results displayed near the top of a Google search are from other Google-owned services. This, according to rival companies, is hugely unfair. They’ve been lobbying the European Commission since November 2010 to try to stop Google’s search bias.

Google has a 75 per cent share of Europe’s search market, so being at the top of Google listings is crucial for most companies. But rather than just being a means to search the internet, Google also owns a plethora of other services. This means that when you search for something on Google, your eye might not be drawn to the most relevant result – instead, you’ll probably click on another service Google owns.

Let’s take a search for ‘gas grill’ as an example. At present Google shows pictures of grills available to buy at the top of the page, along with their price. These results are all from Google Shopping, which other price-comparison websites said was unfair.

The same is true for a location-based search such as ‘cafés in Paris’. The list of Parisian cafés displayed all link to Google services such as Google Maps and Google+. By placing its own results so prominently and including eye-catching images Google is distracting people from clicking results from rival companies and sucking up all the money in the process.

After years of wrangling Google has finally reached a legally binding agreement with the Commission which will see it avoid a multi-billion euro fine by making wholesale changes to how it displays search results in Europe.

Once the Commission approves the changes – a process that should be complete in a few weeks - that same search for ‘gas grill’ will give equal prominence to results from rival services alongside Google Shopping results (see above screenshot). A search for ‘cafés in Paris’ will also clearly display listings from rival services.

European Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia said he would not be seeking feedback on the deal from rival companies, saying that the changes would allow people to find “the best alternative”.

“My mission is to protect competition to the benefit of consumers, not competitors,” he added.

Rival companies are up in arms that Google’s proposals won’t be openly tested to see how effective they are. ICOMP – a lobbying group that counts Microsoft as one of its members – said that Almunia risked having “the wool pulled over his eyes”.

For many people Google is the internet. Until these changes are made, every Google search helps to extend its monopoly. But even after the changes, it’s important that you don’t blindly trust Google to always show you the best results.


  • In November 2010 companies, including Microsoft, complain to the European Commission about Google’sdominance
  • In July2012 the Commissionstarts talks with Googleto tryto make its searchresults fairer
  • Throughout 2013 anumber of Google’sproposalsare slammedas “deliberately ludicrous”byrivalswith the Commission sayingtheyare “notacceptable”
  • Finally, inFebruary 2014 the Commissionannouncesan agreementwith Google–despiteprotests from rivals