Feeds

Will Google's rivals swallow the 'labelling remedy' pill?

Web giant's in Europe now, where complainants count

Mobile application security vulnerability report

Analysis Google will have a green light to offer "manipulated" search results and "to discriminate against competitors" if its preferred competition remedy is accepted by the EU, at least according to 39 national consumer bodies in Europe.

We don't yet know the specifics of the terms Google offered (and that the European Commission will reportedly accept). But it appears that it's a very liberal remedy which goes no further than requiring Google to label its own services as Google properties.

Labelling would merely require Google to state the obvious - that Google Maps is owned and operated by, er... Google. Google would be free to promote its own services above others in its search results. Critics believe that a labelling remedy merely perpetuates the injustice.

The national competition quangos from 30 European countries declared back in January, in a remedy paper by BEUC - which the EU funds to lobby itself - echoed this line:

Simply requiring Google to label its own vertical search services would not prevent the company from manipulating search results and discriminating against competing services. Although the labelling of Google’s own services is crucial in order to enable consumers to make informed choices, it cannot be the sole solution. Infringements of competition rules call for strong and rigorous remedies which go beyond consumer information.

[Source: BEUC remedy paper]

BEUC called for an alternative remedy - an "even-handed" principle, in which Google "must hold all services including its own to exactly the same crawling indexing ranking display and penalty algorithms".

What would that look like in practice?

Currently a service such as Google Maps is not subject to these rules. Google makes an editorial decision to insert Google Maps at the top of a universal search results page, because it thinks it's useful and relevant. BEUC would prefer to see Google Maps indexed.

The upshot would be that Google's own Maps may well be the map of choice for a search results page - given that it's popular - but others would meet the criteria too.

There are certainly arguments of merit on both sides of this. One irony is that Google has historically positioned itself as the antithesis of a publisher - with humans making subjective editorial judgements. Yet that's exactly what Google's universal page is - an editorial property.

It would gain more sympathy if it simply called for editorial freedom, and this freedom must include the ability to promote itself. Surely, few sophisticated users are unaware that Google is a vertically integrated internet services and advertising company, one which sensibly plugs its own services?

Yet that argument doesn't change the numbers. The issue of market dominance doesn't go away, and this is merely a stage in the process.

Former trade union baron Joaquin Almunia, the EU's competition commissioner, may have a relationship with Google chairman Eric Schmidt that's almost as cosy as two texting teens - but he has to put the weight of the EC up against any legal challenge.

The complainants in the fair search case appear to be in no mood to accept labelling, judging by iComp counsel David Wood's comments here.

Unlike US settlements, the complainants are part of the process - they need to find the remedies acceptable. If they don't, the European Commision would be forced to take the stand, side-by-side with Google - arguing against what its rivals consider to be "fairness", and against small internet companies.

What bureaucrat, in their right mind, would want to do that? Isn't the EU unpopular enough already? ®

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart
Mega-costly gas 'n' 'leccy totting-up tech not worth it - Tory MP
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.