Search Bias and the Limits of Antitrust: An Empirical Perspective on Remedies
42 Pages Posted: 9 May 2013 Last revised: 30 Jul 2015
Date Written: July 29, 2015
As Google has moved from providing “ten blue links” to “universal search,” controversy has erupted over whether Google is favoring its own specialized search results over competing specialized results offered by other entities. Google’s competitors have complained about “search bias,” and demanded that antitrust enforcers should ensure “search neutrality.” Both the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the European Commission have considered these complaints. The FTC closed its investigation without taking any action, but the European Commission issued a formal statement of objections to Google in April 2015. This study empirically examines the impact of potential design remedies on search bias, including prominent links to rival specialized search services (“architectural remedies”) and clearer labeling of Google’s specialized search results (“labeling remedies”). This study finds that architectural remedies have much greater impact than labeling remedies. User awareness of labeling is low, and even labels far more explicit than those currently employed do not have much impact. Consumers have sticky expectations about how search results are presented, and their click-through behavior tracks those expectations irrespective of how the search results are labeled. However, major architectural changes can have a substantial impact on click-through rates. These findings suggest that the impact of architectural remedies will depend greatly on their design features, while labeling remedies are unlikely to have a significant impact. We explore the implications of these findings for other issues at the interface of Internet and intellectual property (IP) law.
Keywords: search engine, search bias, Internet, Google
JEL Classification: K19, K21, K23
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation