After over 2 years of formal inquiry and negotiation, the online industry is now set to have its say on whether Google’s proposed remedies will effectively end the abuse of its dominance, restoring competition to the marketplace. ICOMP welcomes the formal market testing phase of the Commission’s investigation as a significant step forward and possibly a new lease of life for the digital ecosystem.
After years of denial and obfuscation, Google’s submission of remedies for market testing constitutes a de facto admission of dominance and abuse. Google has also finally accepted that any solution worthy of the name would have to involve changes to its search page – action it has never before countenanced. The fact that these admissions and concessions come only at the eleventh hour and only when the Commission saw fit to wield the threat of direct punitive action is disappointing but does not lessen their significance. They are certainly not concessions which would have been given willingly.
Market testing now presents the final and best opportunity for those harmed by Google to obtain redress. Recent leaks suggest that, perhaps unsurprisingly, Google’s offer falls far short of what is needed to provide this redress. If this is the case, it will be incumbent on the rest of the industry to stand up and make its message clear: “we need far more serious improvement if we are to level the playing field.”
ICOMP hopes, of course, that Google’s commitments will be rigorous, meaningful and published in detail for scrutiny and testing by those they will affect. In any event, the commitments will provide compelling evidence in any future action for damages.
It is perhaps the essential principle of a healthy marketplace that a company which enjoys Google’s overwhelming dominance cannot fail to offer a guarantee of equal treatment to would-be competitors. In view of Mr Almunia’s commitment to restore effective competition and the Commission’s own guidelines which refer repeatedly to need to deal with ‘persisting effects’ of infringing behaviour, the Commissioner must not accept anything which falls short of this.
ICOMP calls upon all concerned to participate and provide the evidence which allows the Commission to perform its duty and, if necessary, insist on enhanced commitments.
There is everything to play for.
David Wood, ICOMP Legal Counsel