ICOMP notes the news that the European Commission is continuing with the process of settlement negotiations with Google following a lengthy investigation into well documented allegations that the Internet giant is violating competition law. ICOMP members applaud the rigorous EU approach of binding commitments and market testing, but these eventual remedies must address the issue at hand by being robust and by fully and swiftly restoring competition in search and related markets. It further notes that as yet there is still no formal binding offer on the table.
Although we are pleased that Google continues to engage in negotiations, ICOMP warns that action to arrest on-going harm and provide restitution is urgent. Prolonging negotiation to avoid censure should not be an allowable strategy.
Google faces a series of serious and complex complaints by no fewer than 19 entities across the economy, such as the Association of German Magazine Publishers (VDZ), Streetmap, Hot-Map, Ciao, eJustice.fr, the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV), Foundem, Microsoft and Twenga. Each of the complainants is entitled to have their concerns fully addressed in ways which are effective in the long term and verifiable. Vague and soft commitments by Google are unlikely to be enough to convince these harmed parties that Google’s injury to competition has been remedied.
Commenting on the announcement David Wood, Counsel, ICOMP, said:
“In principle, news that settlement negotiations have continued is welcome. By doing so, the complaints that Google’s behaviour constituted an abuse of its dominant position in the online search market have been recognised.
For a number of years we have voiced our concerns that Google’s conduct violates European competition law. Google’s behaviour has caused significant harm to numerous businesses across the online ecosystem, stifling innovation and competition, all to the ultimate detriment of consumers and the European economy.
In addition to addressing the four core concerns identified in the Commissioner’s speech in May and restoring competition to the European market, it is vital that the terms of any agreed settlement include measures to quickly redress the harm caused to European businesses and consumers and which are sufficiently robust to ensure that such harm is not repeated. Given Google’s history of non-compliance, any final remedies package must include a robust monitoring mechanism that makes it easy for consumers and companies to notify the Commission of potential violations and for the Commission to investigate and resolve them quickly. We trust that this will prove to be the case and a robust settlement be enforced.
Should a settlement fail to impose stringent measures, Google is likely to continue abusing its 93% dominance of the European search market; heralding grave consequences for online competition, innovation and consumer choice.
Furthermore, Google has a track record of frustrating official investigations and many third parties have had unhappy experiences when entering into negotiations. Complainants and other stakeholders will continue to urge that their concerns are taken into account.
Regulators across the globe scrutinizing Google’s behaviour will observe these negotiations and any final settlement closely with a view to ensuring adequate measures are implemented to further protect healthy online competition in their own markets.”