Monday 23 October 2017

European Commission to probe Google search

The European Commission is to investigate Google search. Photo: Getty Images
The European Commission is to investigate Google search. Photo: Getty Images

Matt Warman

Allegations that Google gives preferences to its own services and advertisers in search rankings will be formally investigated by the European Commission.

The European Commission is to investigate whether Google has abused its “dominant position in online search”. It will look into whether advertisers and Google’s own services receive preferential treatment in search rankings.

The Commission said “This initiation of proceedings does not imply that the Commission has proof of any infringements. It only signifies that the Commission will conduct an in-depth investigation of the case as a matter of priority.” A detailed timetable has not yet been laid out.

Allegations have been made by price comparison site, by Microsoft’s shopping site Ciao from Bing and French legal search engine, who all suggest that their sites deserve higher rankings in search results.

Google has responded by striking a conciliatory note, saying “Since we started Google we have worked hard to do the right thing by our users and our industry - ensuring that ads are always clearly marked, making it easy for users to take their data with them when they switch services and investing heavily in open source projects. But there’s always going to be room for improvement, and so we’ll be working with the Commission to address any concerns.”

The case echoes European investigations of Microsoft over the bundling of its Internet Explorer web browser software with Windows. The complexities of that case, however, combined with Microsoft’s aggressive defence of its practices, meant that fines ran into hundreds of millions of Euros and the case dragged on for more than a decade. Although Google denies that it has done anything wrong, it is clearly taking a different approach. “We built Google for users, not websites, and the nature of ranking is that some websites will be unhappy with where they rank,” the company said. “Those sites have complained and even sued us over the years, but in all cases there were compelling reasons why their sites were ranked poorly by our algorithms.”

The European Commission’s statement adds that it will “investigate whether Google has abused a dominant market position in online search by allegedly lowering the ranking of unpaid search results of competing services which are specialised in providing users with specific online content such as price comparisons (so-called vertical search services) and by according preferential placement to the results of its own vertical search services in order to shut out competing services.” If found guilty Google could be fined up to 10pc of its €18.2bn annual revenues, but its previous record anticompetition fine was €1.06bn levied against Intel in 2009.

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