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EU Finally Rules in 10-year Google Anti-trust Case

Kirsty Styles

Google CarouselGoogle has committed to improving its business practices as part of a decade-long investigation by the European Commission into monopolistic behaviour in online search.

Having rejected two initial proposals for reconciliation from Google, the Commission has now accepted the ad giant’s offer, with anti-trust chief Joachin Alumnia speaking in Brussels to say he believes the company is now ‘capable of addressing the concerns’.

The Commission said: “Google has now accepted to guarantee that whenever it promotes its own specialised search services on its web page (e.g. for products, hotels, restaurants, etc.), the services of three rivals, selected through an objective method, will also be displayed in a way that is clearly visible to users and comparable to the way in which Google displays its own services."

"This principle will apply not only for existing specialised search services, but also to changes in the presentation of those services and for future services."

'Difficult to feel complete comfort' with process

Glen Collins, CEO of user-generated content review site Review Centre, told Mobile Marketing that he doesn't feel entirely comfortable with the length of the latest case. "I think it’s very difficult to feel complete comfort in an anti-trust process that takes 10 years to reach a decision in a market where the rules, the players and the technology changes seemingly overnight."

SEO specialist Richard Baxter, MD of SEOgadget.com, said his company will be interested to know how Google will meet the obligations offered. "The concessionary measure offered by Google today apparently opens a fairer, less biased playing field for brands to succeed in search regardless of their budget and company size.

"We’ll be analysing just where Google intends to find the data for their enhanced ad listings, though we expect to find they’ll be influenced by results from Google’s Organic search service."

The Commission said it will now speak with the complainants to outline its reasons for the decision. They will then have another opportunity to 'make their views known' before the commitments are legally binding on Google.

Victim of its own success



Nick Garner, CEO of 90 Digital, is more supportive of Google's case, pointing out that companies like Expedia would not exist without it. "No presence on Google means no viable business, so of course they will complain about Google giving preference to their own assets over another brand's.

"But by its very nature the market determines the price [of AdWords] and so Google cannot be accused of price fixing or other anti-competitive practices associated with a monopoly," Garner said. "It's arguable Google has become a victim of its own success and we will continue to see it at the centre of many heated debates about anti-trust."

This is not a feeling shared by Microsoft, which issued a statement urging for market testing of Google's proposed solution to ensure a 'good deal for consumers'. General Counsel and EVP Brad Smith, speaking for Microsoft, said: "For decades transparency has been a hallmark of the Commission’s competition proceedings, and it should not be sacrificed today."


Not the first time

In January last year, Google agreed to change some of its business practices in the US following a large-scale investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). These related to issues around patents, use of other companies content to sell its own products and, as in the EU case, anti-competitive promotion of Google AdWords to advertisers looking to use multiple ad providers.

While Google was investigated for manipulating search algorithms to favour its own vertical websites, the FTC concluded that this ‘could be plausibly justified as innovations that improved Google’s product and the experience of its users’. Although this criticism was not upheld in the US, the EU case also looked at whether Google was favouring its own search results over others.

In another case, this time April last year, the Fairsearch coalition of tech companies, including Microsoft, Nokia, TripAdvisor and Expedia called for a ‘rigorous investigation of Google’s mobile practices’ to protect consumers and ensure competition. The group also filed a complaint with the EU.

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