What Is Google Doing To Its Search Results In Europe?

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A month ago, it was reported that Joaquin Almunia, the European Commission’s head of competition, had given Google a deadline of July 2 to come up with changes to its search results, which would address four main concerns. Now, Google has submitted a proposal, but is not revealing its contents.

“We have made a proposal to address the four areas the European Commission described as potential concerns," a Google spokesperson tells WebProNews. "We continue to work cooperatively with the Commission.”

The New York times reports that the offer came in the form of a letter from Google executive chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt to Almunia.

Almunia had listed his concerns in a statement. Here is the relevant section of that statement:

First, in its general search results on the web, Google displays links to its own vertical search services. Vertical search services are specialised search engines which focus on specific topics, such as for example restaurants, news or products. Alongside its general search service, Google also operates several vertical search services of this kind in competition with other players.

In its general search results, Google displays links to its own vertical search services differently than it does for links to competitors. We are concerned that this may result in preferential treatment compared to those of competing services, which may be hurt as a consequence.

Our second concern relates to the way Google copies content from competing vertical search services and uses it in its own offerings. Google may be copying original material from the websites of its competitors such as user reviews and using that material on its own sites without their prior authorisation. In this way they are appropriating the benefits of the investments of competitors. We are worried that this could reduce competitors' incentives to invest in the creation of original content for the benefit of internet users. This practice may impact for instance travel sites or sites providing restaurant guides.

Our third concern relates to agreements between Google and partners on the websites of which Google delivers search advertisements. Search advertisements are advertisements that are displayed alongside search results when a user types a query in a website's search box. The agreements result in de facto exclusivity requiring them to obtain all or most of their requirements of search advertisements from Google, thus shutting out competing providers of search advertising intermediation services. This potentially impacts advertising services purchased for example by online stores, online magazines or broadcasters.

Our fourth concern relates to restrictions that Google puts to the portability of online search advertising campaigns from its platform AdWords to the platforms of competitors. AdWords is Google's auction-based advertising platform on which advertisers can bid for the placement of search ads on search result pages provided by Google. We are concerned that Google imposes contractual restrictions on software developers which prevent them from offering tools that allow the seamless transfer of search advertising campaigns across AdWords and other platforms for search advertising.

Any changes Google made to address these concerns can only be speculated about at this point, until either the changes are made public or they observed in Google's search results in Europe.

The Times says, citing antitrust experts, that Google will be "extremely wary" of giving away too much, for fear of ramifications for its business beyond Europe.

We did get a statement from the FairSearch Coalition. Thomas Vinje, EU counsel to the organization, said, “The FairSearch coalition looks forward to engaging with the European Commission and Vice President Joaquín Almunia as interested third parties provide feedback on appropriate remedies to restore a competitive marketplace. We hope the proposals reflect a greater willingness to end Google's anti-competitive behavior than has its consistent rejection of the concerns that Mr. Almunia identified after collecting evidence for nearly two years.”

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

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