The EU’s stalled investigation of a potential antitrust violation by Google was reactivated last week. Investigators are currently looking into complaints by competitors that Google is manipulating its search results to favor its partners.

The EU’s competition commissioner, Mr. Alumnia, has determined that Google has ‘a matter of weeks’ to respond to 4 major areas of concern.  If these concerns are not addressed, ramifications may include a formal lawsuit and a fine of up to 10% of Google’s annual revenue.

The major points of concerns are:

  • whether or not Google is unfairly favoring its own advertisers for search results for consumer products like restaurants and flights
  • potential copyright infringement as Google pulls in 3rd party content like online reviews, and how to determine the rights to such content
  • partnerships that Google has with 3rd party publisher sites that show Google’s advertisers in their search box results, but not competitor results
  • how difficult it is for advertisers to transfer their Google AdWords campaigns to rival platforms, and whether this was done intentionally

While Google is certainly the most popular search engine in the US, it is even more popular in the EU, where 85% of online searches are conducted through it and its suite of partner sites.

There are several gray areas that arise from the EU’s ‘statement of objections’ (i.e. not a formal lawsuit). For starters, consumers do not pay to search on Google; instead advertisers pay for any resulting click that occurs. Because of that, some would argue that it’s Google’s right to display its search results any way that it wants to. They also argue that consumers have the right to search on alternate search engines if the results on Google are unsatisfactory.

On the other hand, supporters of the EU’s complaint argue that Google not showing its competitors results (or pushing them further down the results pages) may be hurting consumers that aren’t being shown the most relevant information.

The Federal Trade Commission in the US is also in the process reviewing complaints that Google favors its own partners and services.

What do you think? Is Google being unfairly penalized for simply being too good at what it does? Or, do you think it is unfairly monopolizing its search results?

Tim Niziak

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