Does Google’s dominance of the search market give it any unfair competitive advantage?
Well, it would appear that depends on where you live and trade. In the USA a Federal Trade Commission investigation decided that there was no competition issue, and failed to censure the search giant for its online behaviour. The justification for the inaction was that there robust competition in the US market with Bing and Yahoo holding a 30% share of the market. On this side of the pond the European Commission has recently decided that as Google dominates the search arena, controlling over 90% of the market, it was necessary to take action.
EU regulators told Google that it needed to alter its search results and stop unfairly promoting its own services.
Since the end of March the search giant has promised change, but has subsequently failed to clarify exactly what these changes would be. Finally Google has come up with a list of concessions which it will trial for a month. If EU regulators accept the changes they will become legally binding for the next 5 years.
So what changes has Google agreed to make? How will it alter its search results to make the European market more competitive? Well, firstly Google has agreed to clearly label any results from YouTube, Google Maps and its other sites. It has also agreed to display links to rival platforms close to where it displayed its own services on its search results pages. Google has also promised to clearly separate promoted links from other web search results, and display links to the other 3 specialised search rivals “close to its own services in a place that will be clearly visible to users”, according to EU Commission spokesman, Antoine Colombani. He added:
“The objective of this process is to try to see if we can achieve a settled outcome in this antitrust investigation.”
- To offer all websites the option to opt out from the use of all their content in Google’s search services, while ensuring that any opt-out does not “unduly” affect the sites’ ranking in its general results.
- To offer specialised search sites which focus on product search or local search the option to mark certain categories of information so that they are not indexed or used by Google.
- To no longer include in its agreements with publishers any written or unwritten obligations that would require them to source online search advertisements exclusively from Google.
- To no longer restrict advertisers from running search advertising campaigns across rival advertising platforms.
The question is will these changes be sufficient to satisfy its search rivals? Well, no – not according to the Microsoft-backed lobby group Initiative for a Competitive Marketplace, Icomp. The group argue that the changes do not go far enough:
“It is clear that mere labelling is not any kind of solution to the competition concerns that have been identified. Google should implement the same ranking policy to all websites,” it said.
It added it would comment further once it had fully evaluated the proposals.