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Amazon search ranks in-house products highest, report says

Amazon disputes a Wall Street Journal report that says search results now favor its own brands more than in the past.

Saul Loeb/Getty Images

Amazon quietly changed its search algorithm last year to favor products that earn the company a higher profit, instead of those that're most relevant or best selling, people who worked on the project told The Wall Street Journal

Any change to Amazon's secret search system can have a major impact on the products and brands involved, as most purchases are made by users clicking the products displayed on the first page of search results, marketing analytics firm Jumpshot told the Journal. Amazon sells more than 10,000 products under its own brands, including AmazonBasics, Presto, and Lark & Ro, the Journal said, citing research firm Marketplace Pulse.

Engineers on the search giant's A9 search team said that they were frequently pressured by executives to make Amazon's in-house products appear higher up in search results, leading to the change to emphasize profitability, according to the Journal. 

Though those involved with the project said this is a recent change, Amazon said a product's long-term profitability has been a part of the e-tailer's search algorithm for many years. "We have not changed the criteria we use to rank search results to include profitability," an Amazon spokesperson told the Journal in a statement. 

Amazon disputes the Journal's report, calling it "not factually accurate," according to a statement emailed to CNET. "We feature the products customers will want, regardless of whether they are our own brands or products offered by our selling partners," the statement said. "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."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whose presidential platform includes breaking up big tech companies, tweeted about the story Tuesday morning.

"The game is up: Amazon pretends to be a neutral marketplace platform, but it bulldozes competition by juicing the search results for its own products," Warren tweeted, linking to a report on the story by The Hill. "Reports say even Amazon's own lawyers identify this as an antitrust problem. The FTC must take action."

Originally published Sept. 16, 12:03 p.m. PT.
Update, Sept. 17: Adds Warren's comments.

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