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EU accuses Google of giving search preference to Google Shopping ahead of more relevant links

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By John McCarthy | Media editor

April 15, 2015 | 4 min read

The European Union has issued an anti-competitive complaint against Google which could see the search giant fined billions of euros for "unfair" practises allegedly dating back to 2008.

Following a half-decade long antitrust investigation, the competition commissioner issued a statement of objections claiming Google abused its 90 per cent marketshare in the EEA region to promote its own shopping service.

The body asserted that Google's position as the dominant search provider in the EU enabled it to grant favourable search rankings to its ‘Google Shopping’ price comparison service - above that of rivals.

The statement read: “Google's conduct may therefore artificially divert traffic from rival comparison shopping services and hinder their ability to compete, to the detriment of consumers, as well as stifling innovation.”

Furthermore, the report found that since 2008, Google “systematically positioned and prominently displayed its comparison shopping service in its general search results pages, irrespective of its merits”.

Adding: “Google's conduct has a negative impact on consumers and innovation. It means that users do not necessarily see the most relevant comparison shopping results in response to their queries.”

The report said that Google’s first shopping service Froogle, did not receive any of these search benefits and as a result “performed poorly” before it was rebranded as 'Google Product Search', then 'Google Shopping'.

Amit Singhal, senior vice president of Google Search issued an impassioned response to the EU’s statement of objections: “While Google may be the most used search engine, people can now find and access information in numerous different ways - and allegations of harm, for consumers and competitors, have proved to be wide of the mark

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"Companies like Axel Springer, Expedia, TripAdvisor, and Yelp (all vociferous complainants in this process) have alleged that Google’s practice of including our specialised results (Flight Search, Maps, Local results, etc.) in search has significantly harmed their businesses.

“But their traffic, revenues and profits (as well as the pitch they make to investors) tell a very different story."

Singhal added: “We respectfully but strongly disagree with the need to issue a Statement of Objections and look forward to making our case over the weeks ahead.”

Internet industry lobbying group Icomp welcomed the findings of the investigation: “Google's abuse of dominance distorts European markets, harms consumers, and makes it impossible for Google's rivals to compete on a level playing field.

"We see this statement of objection as a crucial first step towards ensuring that European consumers have access to vibrant and competitive online markets."

Also under investigation is the way Google bundles apps with its Android operating system. Margrethe Vestager, EU competition commissioner, has given the search giant 10 weeks to respond to the allegations.

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