Does Google cheat? No more than Bing does

All search engines are guilty of bias, no matter what the FTC says. Don't believe me? Ask these adorable kittens.

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The verdict is in, the feds have spoken, and it seems that Google has been cleared of charges of “search bias.” We can now all get back to arguing over what to name Kim and Kanye’s love child.

For the last 19 months, the FTC has been scrutinizing whether Google tweaked its search algorithms to favor its own services over those of competitors. And, given Google’s ginormous search market share (nearly 70 percent last time I checked), does that constitute an abuse of power on the level of a monopoly?

Those are some of the questions the FTC was asking. Yesterday, it decided that Google isn’t cheating. Or, perhaps more accurately, it decided that if Google is cheating, it’s doing so in a way that benefits consumers (as well as Google). So suck on that, Microsoft.

Needless to say, folks who very much believe Google is cheating (like Microsoft, Yelp, and Kayak, to name a few) were not happy with the FTC’s decision. Personally, I get the feeling nobody at the FTC wanted to dive into Google’s inscrutable ever-morphing algorithms in front of a jury, lest they all lapse into a coma.

On the other hand, I also haven’t felt particularly harmed by Google search results, aside from the advertisements that are growing like kudzu every time I run a search. No harm, no foul, no need for remedy. Right?

Still I thought a side-by-side comparison of Google and Bing might prove instructive, so I conducted some wholly unscientific tests to see if one engine was playing faster and looser than the other.

I started with travel, since both Bing and Google offer their own dedicated travel search services. I searched for flights from New York City to Stockholm on both sites. Here’s what that search looked like in Google:

Note that below the three featured ads from KLM, Iceland Air, and CheapoAir is a boxed set of results from Google.com/Flights showing flight times and fares. So much for any need to hit Kayak.com.

What about Bing? The same search turned up the following:

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