India’s competition regulator fines Google $21.1 million for ‘search bias’ in travel results

India’s Competition Commission (CCI) today fined Google $1.36 billion rupees (roughly $21.1 million) for “abuse of its dominant position” in search. The specific finding made by CCI (in a 4 to 2 decision) surrounded Google’s treatment of flight search results.

CCI said that Google “allocated disproportionate real estate” to the box of sponsored flight results at the top of the page, which the Committee said disadvantaged “verticals trying to gain market access”:

CCI found prominent display of Commercial Flight Unit by Google on Search Engine Result Page (SERP) with link to Google’s specialised search options/ services (Flight) in contravention of the provisions of Section 4(2)(a)(i) of the Act. CCI noted in its order that Google through its search design has not only placed its commercial flight unit at a prominent position on SERP, it has also allocated disproportionate real estate thereof to such units to the disadvantage of verticals trying to gain market access. Besides, it was also found that Google has provided a further link in such commercial units which leads users to its specialised search result page (Google Flight) resulting into unfair imposition upon the users of general search services as well.

The penalty is the culmination of a long process of review, triggered in 2012 by an initial complaint from and public interest advocate Consumer Unity & Trust Society.

The OneBox itself was not found to violate India’s competition rules, according to CCI (press release). Other search and related issues were considered by CCI, including AdWords practices and distribution agreements. Those were also not found to be in contravention of Indian law.

The fine itself was based on 5 percent of Google India revenues between 2013 and 2015. European antitrust rules, by comparison, now permit regulators to impose fines based on a percentage of global revenues.

The complete (and lengthy) CCI decision is available here (.pdf).

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