EU Antitrust Charges Filed Against Google, Focus On Comparison Shopping Only

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As expected and discussed in my companion Marketing Land article, the European Commission has filed a “Statement of Objections” (formal antitrust charges) against Google. They assert the company abused its market position but, interestingly, focus only on alleged abuse in the comparison shopping category.

Separately, the Commission opened a formal investigation into claims of potential abuse surrounding the Android operating system. Google offered rebuttals to both sets of claims in two blog posts: EU Statement of Objections, Android. The Android action is in its early stages, while the search antitrust case is entering its final act.

Despite the focus on comparison shopping, the Commission says it’s reserving the right to pursue charges regarding “the alleged more favourable treatment of other specialised search services” (i.e., local and travel). Here are the verbatim statements about Google’s alleged search abuse in the shopping category:

  • Google systematically positions and prominently displays its comparison shopping service in its general search results pages, irrespective of its merits. This conduct started in 2008.
  • Google does not apply to its own comparison shopping service the system of penalties, which it applies to other comparison shopping services on the basis of defined parameters, and which can lead to the lowering of the rank in which they appear in Google’s general search results pages.
  • Froogle, Google’s first comparison shopping service, did not benefit from any favourable treatment, and performed poorly.
  • As a result of Google’s systematic favouring of its subsequent comparison shopping services “Google Product Search” and “Google Shopping”, both experienced higher rates of growth, to the detriment of rival comparison shopping services.
  • Google’s conduct has a negative impact on consumers and innovation. It means that users do not necessarily see the most relevant comparison shopping results in response to their queries, and that incentives to innovate from rivals are lowered as they know that however good their product, they will not benefit from the same prominence as Google’s product.

Procedurally, Google will now be given an opportunity to rebut the charges. But that case must be made to the European Commission itself, which has brought the charges and already concluded that the company broke the law.

If Google is fined or compelled to make undesired changes in its search results, it can appeal to an EU-wide court in Luxembourg. However, that court has historically given deference to the Commission’s findings and conclusions.

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