A year ago today the European Commission announced that it was commencing an investigation into Google’s anti-competitive business practices; this marks a good stage to pause and reflect on the events of the past year.
The EU Commission has received at least 13 official complaints from companies based across Europe to the effect that the internet giant has abused its dominant position. The company’s market share in online search and search advertising has grown to 83.62% worldwide and is over 90% in some parts of the EU.
Whilst dominance itself is not an issue of abuse, the complaints have addressed four particular business practices –
- Preferential placement of products – this relates to the artificial distortion of internet search results, which places certain offerings over competing services, and so distorting what are thought by consumers to be natural search rankings
- Penalisation of rivals – the blacklisting of rival sites and has significant implications for competing services, which, if given an artificially low ranking on Google’s search results will find it far more difficult to attract users
- Unauthorised exploitation of third party content – this refers to claims made to the French Competition Authority in particular in the field of news aggregation
- Exclusionary and exploitative practices in relation to advertising services – this complaint revolves around denying competitors access to key content, denying competitors access to interoperability information and imposing penalties on paid for search results
These are discussed in greater depth in the ICOMP White Paper, Google under the Antitrust Microscope.
The past twelve months have seen an unprecedented volume of complainants and mounting scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. For example in South Korea the country’s Fair Trade Commission raided Google’s offices, seeking evidence that pointed to limiting access to rival search engines on its Android mobile operating system. Whilst in June the US Federal Trade Commission opened a formal investigation into the influence over the internet that Google has amassed as a result of its dominance of the search business.
The companies in and across Europe who have come forward to express their views to the Commission span a variety of countries and commercial sectors including mapping service providers, vertical search engines and news sites. It is unprecedented to see so many independent companies go public regarding their complaints about the behaviour of a single entity. And yet they may literally be only the tip of the iceberg as it is known that many other companies have expressed concerns but have sought to keep their identity confidential for the moment.
What do the next twelve months hold in store with regards to the situation currently being played out in Europe?
In the meantime, in support of an innovative and sustainable competitive online marketplace, ICOMP encourages those who may have suffered from antitrust practices to step forward and join voices with those who already have.
The ICOMP Secretariat