Amazon changed search algorithm to boost profitable products: report

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Amazon has altered its search algorithm in a way that would boost profits for the online retail giant despite pushback against the decision from within the company, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

The change reportedly came last year with a tweak that prioritizes products that are more profitable for Amazon, including its own brands, in a departure from its long-standing practice of displaying products in order of relevance to a user’s search terms.

{mosads}According to the Journal, Amazon’s retail business was behind the push for the product search system to take profitability into account. Programmers tasked with running the search algorithm, a group called A9, reportedly opposed the idea as running counter to the company’s ethos of putting the customer above all else.

Amazon’s legal team also raised concerns about the idea, according to the Journal, pointing out that the decision could draw scrutiny from the European Union, which had fined Google $2.7 billion in 2017 for elevating its own comparison-shopping service in its search results.

After the Journal’s story was published, Amazon said that it was inaccurate and that the company doesn’t use profitability to help determine search rankings.

“The Wall Street Journal has it wrong,” Amazon spokeswoman Angie Newman said in a statement. “We explained at length that their ‘scoop’ from unnamed sources was not factually accurate, but they went ahead with the story anyway. The fact is that we have not changed the criteria we use to rank search results to include profitability.

“We feature the products customers will want, regardless of whether they are our own brands or products offered by our selling partners. As any store would do, we consider the profitability of the products we list and feature on the site, but it is just one metric and not in any way a key driver of what we show customers.”

The Journal report is likely to draw the interest of the growing number of regulators in the U.S. scrutinizing Amazon and other tech giants over antitrust concerns. Bloomberg reported last week that the Federal Trade Commission has begun interviewing Amazon’s third-party vendors.

Last Friday, the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee sent an expansive records request to Amazon that included internal communications about its product search system and how it decides which products are elevated.

This report was updated at 2:48 p.m.


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