This week, Google addressed recent proposals it presented to the European Commission in an attempt to settle a lengthy antitrust investigation. These proposals already went further than those Google offered up successfully to the Federal Trade Commission here in the U.S. The commission recently said they didn't go far enough, and Google competitors think the proposals are so bad that it would be better for Google to make no changes at all. Google's position: We think we did a pretty good job, and we're delivering the answers people want.
Do you think Google should have to make changes to how it operates as a search engine with regards to its competitors? Do the proposals go far enough? Too far? Did Google do a "good job"? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Back in April, the European Commission put out public documents discussing Google's proposals, giving competitors some time to offer feedback. In late May, Commissioner Joaquin Almunia made comments indicating that Google's proposals did not go far enough.
Proposals included the labeling of promoted links, offering an opt-out option for its vertical search services, stopping the inclusion of obligations for partners to source online ads to exclusively to Google, and no longer imposing obligations preventing advertisers from managing search campaigns across competing ad platforms. You can read about these in more detail here.
Google took to its Europe Policy blog on Monday to defend itself again, as competitors have continued to voice complaints about the company's business practices. The post is called "Answers people want".
"You expect Google to give you the very best search results," the post, written by SVP and General Counsel Kent Walker, begins. "Just the right information, at just the right time, without hassle or cost. We started out by showing you ten blue links. Advances in computer science now let us provide richer and better answers, saving a lot of time and effort. If you search for the 'height of the Eiffel Tower', that’s probably what you want - right there on your screen or mobile phone, not several clicks away. So that’s what we give you. Ask Google for places to eat in New York and we aim to show pictures of restaurants, plus reviews, prices, hours, location, directions, and more. All right there, with no extra effort required."
It's almost an ad for Google's Knowledge Graph at this point. Google launched a new carousel feature for local businesses last week, by the way and just expanded the Knowledge Graph further in Europe, by adding Sweden.
"We’ve been discussing these innovations with the European Commission as they have reviewed our search and advertising business," Walker continues. "We know that scrutiny comes along with success, and we have worked hard to answer their questions thoroughly and thoughtfully. When the Commission outlined four areas of 'preliminary' concern last summer, we submitted proposals to address each point in a constructive way. Our proposals are meaningful and comprehensive, providing additional choice and information while also leaving room for future innovation. As we’ve always said, we build Google for users, not websites. And we don’t want to hamper the very innovations that people like best about Google’s services. That’s why we focused on addressing the Commission’s specific concerns, and we think we did a pretty good job."
"The Internet is the greatest level playing field ever," Walker concludes. "More and more, people are voting with their feet (or at least their cursors), getting information from apps, general and specialised search engines, social networks, and a multitude of websites. That free flow of information means that millions of websites (including ours) now compete directly for business, bringing you more information, lower prices, and more choice. We very much appreciate the Commission’s professionalism and integrity throughout this process, and look forward to reaching a sensible solution."
What that solution is, however, remains to be seen, as Google's proposals already go further than what was accepted by the Federal Trade Commission here in the U.S.
Following Google's blog post, FairSearch, the coalition of companies (including but not limited to companies in the travel industry) making up one of Google’s biggest opponents, sent us the following statement about Google’s proposals, from Thomas Vinje, counsel to FairSearch Europe:
Google has made its proposals to the European Commission to remedy its abuses of dominance (click here for full proposal). It says those proposals are “meaningful and comprehensive, providing additional choice and information.” Google’s statement is a glittering generality, without any substance. The reality is unfortunately quite different, because Google’s proposals would further stifle competition. In short, it would be better to do nothing than to accept Google’s proposals.
Google’s proposed solution would simply allow Google to continue prominently to display its own related services in the prime real estate of the page. Links to competing sites would be included, but in a manner that is designed to dissuade users from clicking on them. Moreover, the sites of some of Google’s main competitors – some of the most recognised brand names – are explicitly excluded from the proposal. Those competitors that do qualify for inclusion are almost entirely dependent on Google’s discretion and in some cases need to pay in order to be featured. Google’s proposal would turn a competition abuse into an additional revenue stream for Google. Far from solving the Commission’s competition concerns this proposal will raise competitors’ costs, limit choice and cement Google’s anti-competitive behaviour. Consumers deserve better.
Google can innovate without disadvantaging rivals and depriving consumers of the benefits of competition.
Google is being disingenuous. Its proposed remedies, if accepted, would only entrench its existing monopoly, fill its already brimming coffers, and deprive consumers of its rivals’ innovations.
Additionally, an "informal coalition" of hundreds of European publishers also called on Almunia to reject Google's proposals.
Speaking on behalf of the informal press publishers' coalition, the President of the complainant VDZ (German magazine publishers' association), Prof. Dr. Hubert Burda, said, "If Google does not come up with fundamentally improved proposals very soon, we call on the Commission to use its full legal powers, including an immediate Statement of Objections with effective remedies. Fair and non-discriminatory search with equal criteria for all websites is an essential prerequisite for the prosperous development of the European media and technology sector."
The President of complainant BDZV (Federation of German newspaper publishers), Helmut Heinen, underlines: "As a minimum requirement, Google must hold all services, including its own, to exactly the same standards, using exactly the same crawling, indexing, ranking, display, and penalty algorithms. Google must not use third party content beyond what is truly indispensable for navigation purposes in the horizontal search without prior consent."
It's worth noting that German publishes have a particular beef with Google, who just made Google News opt-in for publishers in the country, to avoid having to pay licensing fees, which a new law would require Google to do operating the product as it does elsewhere.
The FTC is said to be looking at Google's display advertising business these days. In fact, the FTC also warned Google this week (along with a bunch of Google's competitors) that they need to get better at disclosing sponsored search results. This is something Google's competitors have complained about Google doing, while also doing similar things themselves.
Should Google be required to make changes? What would you like to see Google change? Share your thoughts in the comments.