Tuesday, November 30, 2010

EC Investigates Google for Abuse of Dominance

This posting was written by Jeffrey May, Editor of CCH Trade Regulation Reporter.

The European Commission (EC) announced today that it has opened an in-depth antitrust investigation into Google Inc.'s methods for displaying search results.

According to the EC announcement, the investigation will look into whether Google abused a dominant market position in online search by:

(1) Lowering the ranking of unpaid search results of so-called vertical search services and by according preferential placement of its own vertical search services;

(2) Lowering the “Quality Score" for sponsored links of competing vertical search services and thereby influencing the price paid for advertising and the corresponding rankings;

(3) Imposing exclusivity obligations on advertising partners that prevent certain types of competing ads; and

(4) Restricting the portability of online advertising campaign data to competing online advertising platforms. The EC is attempting to determine whether Google engaged in this conduct in an effort to shut out competitors.

Complaints by Search Service Providers

The EC said that the formal investigation followed complaints from search service providers. While not named in the EC announcement, the three complaining firms have been identified as U.K.-based search service and price comparison site Foundem, French legal search engine eJustice, and Microsoft-owned shopping site Ciao.

The EC noted that the investigation did not imply it had proof of any infringements.

IComp, the Initiative for an Online Competitive Marketplace, in a November 30 statement, expressed hope that the EC decision “will contribute towards the development of a healthier and more competitive online marketplace.” Foundem is among the members of the Internet business organization.

Google Response

In response to the EC announcement, Google posted a statement on its European Public Policy Blog, saying that it would “work closely with the Commission to answer their questions.” According to the post, Google “will continue to review complaints about Google's search and search advertising.”

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