34 companies including Trip Advisor and Expedia have accused Google of “unfairly promoting” its own holiday rental search in Google search results, in a letter to the European Commissioner for Competition, Financial Times reported. The companies reportedly claimed that Google directs more user attention and clicks to its own service by displaying “a visually-rich OneBox at the top of its general search results pages,” regardless of the relevancy for the user.
One of the 34 companies has also filed an official complaint to the European Commission and claimed that such anti-competitive behaviour by Google will prevent new companies from entering the market and will ultimately lead to higher prices, per the report. It also claimed that the tech giant’s own service is not bound by the same page ranking criteria that it applies to others and that Google grants its own service free of cost, while charging other companies for the same display spot.
“We see strong indications of a competitive strategy for Google to reduce us and our industry to mere content providers for the ‘one-stop-shop’ of Google’s new product,” – the letter reportedly said.
This objection to Google’s alleged unfair preferential practices comes after the EU, in 2017, had fined the search engine €2.4 billion, for abusing its dominant position by systematically favouring its own shopping comparison service. In fact, in the last two years, Google has been fined more than €8 billion by the European Competition Commission and has been ordered to change its business practices.
Google, on the other hand, claimed that its search results are designed to provide the most relevant information for search queries and that better results lead to qualified leads for their partners, as per FT. The company also reportedly said that it is testing a new format for specialist searches in Europe. MediaNama has reached out to Google for further clarification on what actions the company plans to take to deal with these accusations.
Google’s patchy history in Europe
This is not the first time that the American tech giant might get involved with EU authorities. Google has had a long history with regulatory action and scrutiny in the EU.
- On February 4, the Data Protection Commission (DPC) in Ireland had initiated an inquiry to investigate complaints regarding Google’s processing of location data.
- In December 2019, the antitrust regulators of the European Union (EU) were seeking details of Google’s data collection practices, Reuters had reported. The focus of the investigation was reportedly on data related to local search, online advertisement targeting, login services, web browsers, and others.
- In March 2019, the European Commission had fined Google €1.49 billion, or 1.29% of Google’s turnover in 2018, for breaching EU antitrust rules. The commission said that Google abused its market dominance by placing restrictions on third-party websites which prevented Google’s rivals from placing ads on the websites.
- In December 2018, the European Commission sent questionnaires to Google’s rivals asking them if Google demoted local search competitors. It asked for details of Google’s practices and their impact on competing services between January 2012 to December 2017. This questionnaire was prompted by a complaint by American search and advertising company Yelp and rivals in the travel, restaurant and accommodation industries.