Updates to this story
Google may have pledged to deliver unbiased search results, but new research claims that it artificially inflates its own search rankings, ensuring that its own websites and services receive top priority.
The revelation comes from Ben Edelman, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, who discovered that Google's search results were not quite as they seemed.
He used a comma test search tool to see the real results beneath Google's altered ones and came to realise that its own sites were been given higher placement than the organic search results really showed.
An example given was a search for the stock symbol of Cisco, (tick: CSCO), which instead of bringing up the more heavily used, accoridng to ComScore, Yahoo Finance site brings up Google Finance as the top ranking result.
It's no surprise that Google would want to rank itself higher than everyone else and it could achieve this partially through paid placements and advertising on the search engine itself, but suggesting that the results are impartial while effectively tampering with them to bump its own listings is a bit, er, rich.
Google has not denied altering its results this week, though it has denied it in the past. It has also confirmed it in the past, with Marissa Mayer, a Google executive, saying at one point that it felt justified in ranking itself first.
Google believes it should be providing the most useful results first, but its own services are not always the most useful and it's clear that it is extremely biased about that.
The problem for search engine optimisation is that this calls into question Google's credibility as an impartial medium through which to conduct search engine business. If Google tampers with its own results, will it tamper with others? Will it accept payments to bump others to the top, as opposed to its current clearly-labelled sponsored results, and will we be left to question every results page we see from now on?
What is clear is that with 34 percent of people clicking the first link on a results page, according to Edelman, it seems likely that Google will continue to rank itself first.