Google has been 'de-ranking' Apple's iTunes links on relevant search terms because of a technical issue, the search giant has stated.

Direct links to apps on the iTunes Store have been ranking surprisingly - some might say suspiciously - low on relevant Google search terms recently, a situation spotted by TechCrunch on Tuesday. The site found, for example, that searching for "Whatsapp iTunes" didn't bring up the WhatsApp Messenger iPhone app as an iTunes link until the bottom of the second page of results.

Google has a rival smartphone operating system and app ecosystem of its own - Google Android - and it would be highly embarrassing for the company if it thought to be skewing its search results to hamper users of iOS.

Google issued a statement to explain the anomaly and to reassure users that nothing could be further from the truth:

"We've been having some issues fetching pages from the iTunes web servers, and as a result some people may have had problems finding iTunes apps in search easily. We're working with the team there to ensure search users can find what they're looking for."

Macworld UK tested a few searches while writing this article. We repeated the test on WhatsApp Messenger, and it came up as the second-from-top result, so Google may have already sorted the problem.

WhatsApp Messenger app search ranking

Many searches - Facebook iTunes, Little Inferno iTunes, Instapaper iTunes - currently return the relevant app, as a direct iTunes Store link, as the top result. We did notice that searching for "Wave Trip iTunes" (but without the quotes) didn't bring up the relevant app (a clever but less well-known game) within the first 21 pages of results, with various apps, songs and books on the store that happen to have 'wave' or 'trip' in their titles coming up instead; with the quotes it was the second result.

(All of these searches were performed when logged into Google; TechCrunch reported that rankings were still lower when logged out.)

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