Apple Says It Made Adjustments to the App Store to Reduce Its Inherent Influence Over Search Results
Jack Nicas and Keith Collins, New York Times:
When search results were flooded with Apple apps, Apple executives said, the algorithm concluded that people were looking for a specific Apple app and decided to surface other apps by the same developer.
That wasn’t always to Apple’s benefit. For instance, they said, searching “office” returns a series of Microsoft apps because the algorithm recognizes they are looking for Microsoft Office tools.
Apple engineers said the algorithm believed people searching “music” wanted just Apple Music because users clicked on the Apple Music app so frequently. Apple Music had a distinct advantage over other apps: It comes preinstalled on iPhones. Apple said some people used the search engine to find apps that were already on their phones.
When people search “music,” the App Store reminds them that they already have Apple Music installed. Many people then click on the app, the engineers said, adding to its popularity in the eyes of the algorithm.
I think a big thing we’ll still be grappling with years from now was how we spent years uncritically absorbing content via recommendation engines and algorithms and how so many of the choices we thought were our own were really driven by this kind of stuff.
One notes that “your search algorithm favors your own products” is the core of almost every antitrust decision Google has lost.
A difference is that Google is actually very good at building search engines; Apple is not. It’s hard to give any company the benefit of the doubt when the facts of the case seem so straightforward, but it is completely plausible to me that the App Store would elevate Apple’s own apps purely because the search engine isn’t very good. That’s not an excuse — especially not when there is no other venue for iOS apps — but it’s believable.