Today, eleven of the companies which complained to the European Commission about Google’s anticompetitive conduct published an open letter to Commissioner Almunia calling for official sanctions against the company.
The signatories to the letter, which included ICOMP Members Foundem, Hot Maps and Streetmap, voiced concerns that any settlement agreement would not sufficiently address the issue of how Google ranks competitors in its search results.
“There are two equally important aspects to Google’s search manipulation practices,” says the letter: “the systematic promotion of Google’s own services, and the systematic demotion or exclusion of its competitors’ services. Any effective remedies will require explicit commitments to end both aspects; remedying one without remedying the other would simply allow Google to recalibrate the un-remedied practice in order to achieve the same or equivalent anti-competitive effect.”
The complainants said that the overarching principle would ensure a permanent restoration of competition is that Google must be even-handed. “It must hold all services, including its own, to exactly the same standards, using exactly the same crawling, indexing, ranking, display, and penalty algorithms.”
Commissioner Almunia’s statement at the end of January of his “conviction” that Google “are diverting [search] traffic,” was encouraging to complainants and the online marketplace at large. “They are monetising this kind of business,” he told the Financial Times, “the strong position they have in the general search market and this is not only a dominant position, I think – I fear – there is an abuse of this dominant position.”
Since these comments, however, Google has proposed a remedy package which the Commission is currently considering. The contents of this settlement have not yet been shared but complainants fear that it will not deal with allegations that Google forcibly demotes rival sites through penalties, a concern amplified by Google’s past conduct which “suggests that it is unlikely to volunteer effective, future-proof remedies without being formally charged with infringement.
Additional to Google’s illicit business practices is the enormous advantages of scale it has used them to amass; advantages which, for example, enable it to cross-subsidise loss-leading services using its advertising revenue in order to undercut competitors. It is almost inconceivable that a remedy package from Google would address this point. This is another reason why complainants are saying that nothing short of an official sanction will save online competition. ICOMP calls upon the Commission to listen to the marketplace and act on its advice.