A Microsoft Corp. consultant questioned the impartiality of Google Inc.’s search results as European Union regulators are trying to end an antitrust probe of the operator of the world’s biggest search engine that is in its third year.
Internet traffic can be diverted by manipulating the order of search results, said Susan Athey, a professor of economics at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and a Microsoft consultant, in a blog post on Microsoft’s website. When a site is moved from the first position to the 10th position in a series of search results, it typically will lose about 85 percent of its traffic, she said.
“Impartiality of search results will become all the more important in the years to come, given that screen sizes on smartphones and tablets are smaller than on traditional PCs,” Athey said. “Smaller screens mean there is even less room for competing services to appear in Google’s mobile search.”
EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia has sought a deal with Google to end the antitrust probe without imposing fines, while competitors such as Microsoft and TripAdvisor Inc. have tried to pressure regulators to force Mountain View, California-based Google to change its business practices. The U.S. ended an investigation into Google in January, saying there was no evidence the company’s actions harmed consumers.
“We continue to work cooperatively with the European Commission,” Al Verney, a Brussels-based Google spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.
The EU in 2010 began investigating claims Google discriminated against other services in its search results and stopped some websites from accepting competitors’ ads after receiving complaints from Microsoft and others.
While Microsoft and partner Yahoo! Inc. have about a quarter of the U.S. Web-search market, Google has almost 95 percent of the traffic in Europe, Microsoft said in a blog post in 2011, citing data from regulators.