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CCI dismisses allegations on Google of shutting AdWords accounts

Competition Commission of India (CCI) has dismissed allegations of unfair business practices made against Google with respect to its advertising platform AdWords. The anti-competition watchdog said that Google did not violate any competition norms.

The complaint was filed against Google LLC, Google Ireland Ltd and Google India Pvt Ltd in 2014, by a businessman Vishal Gupta of Audney.com (informant) and tech company Albion InfoTel (informant), alleging that Google is not transparent, abuses its bidding process, and indulged in anti-competitive practices with respect to its advertising platform AdWords.  Vishal Gupta, the owner of a company named Shyam Garment Group of Companies, which also operated a USA-registered Delhi Call Centre Pvt Ltd with Audney Inc for tech support, alleged that Google suspended the tech support company’s Adwords account without any reason to promote its newly launched Remote Tech Support operation Google Helpout, in USA.

However, Google contended that it terminated the accounts of the Informants because there were repeated serious violations by them of the AdWords policies and their conduct endangered the end users.

The Commission examined three issues and noted that Google provides sufficient data to advertisers on the performance of their advertisements and no contravention of the provisions of the Act can be attributed to the Google’s bidding process.

CCI said in its order that Google’s AdWords policies protect the platform and the end-users, particularly, the vulnerable end-users. “ there is evidence on record showing that the informants’ conduct was likely to endanger end-users of remote tech services. They repeatedly committed multiple violations of the AdWords policies, demonstrating a consistent and persistent pattern of misconduct and user harm (eg. through tactics designed to mislead or exploit users),” the order said.

The anti-competition watchdog also said that AdWords Policies are available online, and are just one of a number of policies that advertisers choose to accept when opening an account. Both the Informants, while opening their respective accounts, agreed to comply with the AdWords Policies. It adds that the advertisements that infringe Google’s AdWords policies may be “disapproved” or “suspended” until rectified. And apparently, there were multiple violations of AdWords by informants such as phone number policy by including telephone numbers in ad titles, text, or visible URLs that mislead users into thinking they would place a call by clicking on the ad, when in fact they would be redirected to a website.

The Commission also found that there is no evidence that the termination of the Informants’ accounts was intended to provide Helpouts with a competitive advantage, and that Helpouts facilitated the exchange of information between experts in various fields (e.g., teachers, personal trainers, doctors, home repair specialists, hobby enthusiasts, and more) and users. Service providers could offer their services via Helpout’s online video conferencing facility, video posting facility, and screen-sharing facility. Google itself did not provide services to users through the Helpouts platform but merely acted as an intermediary facilitating a connection between the users and service providers.

Google spokesperson in a statement shared with MediaNama said that, “We are pleased that, after a thorough analysis, the Commission has confirmed Google’s conduct to be fair, pro-consumer, and compliant with competition law. We are committed to ensuring that our users have a safe experience when clicking on ads on our platform.”

However, Competition Commission of India (CCI) Chairperson D K Sikri passed a dissent note. He said that, “rather than passing a final order under Section 27 of the (Competition) Act, the present cases ought to have been referred back to the DG by the Commission under Section 26 (7) of the Act for further investigation on the facets identified above”.

Section 27 pertains to orders passed by the regulator after an inquiry into agreements or abuse of dominant position.

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