Citing a bug "caused by a recent code push," Google claims Yelp and TripAdvisor links being buried in search results on smartphones is purely accidental, writes Re/code. Google says it's working on a solution to the problem.
However, review site Yelp and online travel agent TripAdvisor aren't buying the Silicon Valley giant's plea of innocence. Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman told Re/code the "error" was actually a malicious attempt by Google to hurt a competitor: "Far from a glitch, this is a pattern of behavior by Google." Stoppleman and his company have long claimed Google manipulates search results to boost its own interests and ding competitors, and the review site backed a recent study that attempted to prove those allegations.
Legal scholar and former Federal Trade Commission adviser Tim Wu authored a paper that "presents evidence that the search giant sets out to hamper competitors and limit consumers' options." The study was conducted in conjunction with Yelp's Data Science Team. It followed a 2014 internal user-behavior study by Yelp, which found in some cases when a person searched for "a restaurant's name and the word 'Yelp,'" Google content such as a link to the restaurant's Google+ page showed up first.
TripAdvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer noted the wonky Google search results on Twitter, pointing out a "search for 'tripadvisor hilton' puts the tripadvisor link so far down you can't see it." In 2014, TripAdvisor joined Yelp in its long-running feud with Google by launching a "Focus on the User" campaign against the search behemoth in Europe. The campaign echoed accusations against Google of giving preference to its own content when users seek information about restaurants.
The epic Yelp vs. Google fight started in 2009 when the search engine failed to acquire the review site for $500 million. Google then started scraping Yelp reviews — without attribution — to populate Google Places and went so far as to run deceptive ads for restaurant review site Zagat, which Google purchased in 2011, on searches for "Yelp." Google has made a big move into the dining game in recent years, adding restaurant recommendations to its maps app, delivery options to search results, and reservations via partnership with OpenTable, among other innovations.
A Yelp spokesperson declined to comment further and told Eater, "We think the visual facts and Jeremy's statement provided [to Re/code] capture our position on the issue and our response to their claim." Google offered the same statement it gave to Re/code: "The issues cited were caused by a recent code push, which we're working quickly to fix."
Update: November 25, 2:15 p.m. In a statement provided to Eater, TripAdvisor's Kaufer said, "It's clear that Google continues to seek ways to manipulate its search results to benefit Google's own interests. Google's behavior to suppress the most useful and relevant content is both deceptive and anti-consumer."