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Google-Zagat a Search Conflict Can of Worms -- Top Ten Questions for FTC

Google's purchase of Zagat, a leading restaurant guide and reviewer, opens a search conflict can of worms just as the FTC is in the middle of a broad antitrust investigation of Google, which includes investigating the allegation that Google deceptively favors its own content in its publicly represented unbiased search rankings.

Top ten questions for the FTC to ask Google.

  1. Will Google hardcode Zagat with a #1 Google search rank when users search for restaurant guides/reviews like it currently does when it ranks other Google products #1, or will Google rank Zagat algorithmically according to its long promise "We never manipulate rankings to put our partners higher in our search results."
  2. Given that both Google and Zagat both rank restaurants in very different ways with very different criteria, which ranking method/algorithm will Google use and will it be fully disclosed so users know if they can trust the Zagat methodology and objectivity or if they should expect a Google-favored algorithmic rating?
  3. Will Zagat competitors like Yelp and Open Table have the competitive opportunity to rank #1 in Google searches based on merit?
  4. Will Google's human raters rank Zagat's "quality score" higher than Yelp, Open Table or other restaurant guides so that algorithmically Zagat has a built-in advantage over its competitors?
  5. Will restaurants have to advertise with Google a certain amount to maintain their Zagat rating?
  6. Will restaurants have to cooperate with Zagat's rating process in order to be found on Google search?
  7. Will there be any quid pro quo for restaurants to be rated highly by Zagat to agree to offer 50% off Google Offers coupons to create a business advantage over Groupon or Living Social?
  8. Will restaurants have to fear that it will be easier for them to be listed as "CLOSED" when they are really "OPEN," if they don't cooperate with Zagat, advertise with Google, pay Google to be found on Google Maps, or don't participate in Google Offers?
  9. If Google has ~98% market share of Google mobile search and an estimated 94% of U.S. search advertising revenues, how can any competitor, or local company that does not play ball with Google AdSense/AdWords, Google Maps, Google Offers, and Google+, expect to be found by its potential customers on Google search?
  10. Will the FTC consider it a deceptive practice under Section 5 for a company with market power like Google to represent themselves to the public as unbiased, when they have many real financial conflicts of interest?

In sum, Google remains its own worst enemy.

  • While Google is under antitrust investigation for deceptive business practices by the FTC, including Google's many serious undisclosed financial conflicts of interest, Google has chosen to make a public acquisition like Zagat that spotlights the many obvious and serious competitive and fair representation problems that Google has.