Google watchers react furiously to ad flinger’s competition case defence

You can't just point at Amazon and eBay!

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“The data mentioned in Google’s blog is frankly suspicious," or so said Thomas Vinje, legal counsel for FairSearch Europe – a group of organisations lobbying against the ad flinger's online search dominance – in response to Google’s defence of its EU anti-trust case yesterday.

FairSearch represents the complainants in the case, but Vinje, a veteran of EU competition cases, said the Chocolate Factory argument gave him a sense of deja vu.

“We have seen this before. Defendants in big European anti-trust cases have made the same arguments. Just like Google here, they have argued that the Commission is incorrectly defining the market,” he said.

Google has indeed contended that it is not abusing a dominant position in favouring its own shopping services in its search results, because it is simply not dominant in the shopping market.

In a blog post on Thursday, Google's legal counsel and SVP, Kent Walker, pointed to Amazon, eBay and even mobile apps that consumers use to buy products.

Vinje disagreed: “As in previous cases, the Commission has gone into quite some detail and has done a good job in properly defining the market into which Google has leveraged its overwhelming dominance in search, namely the shopping (price) comparison market.”

He also said that Google has changed its position: “Google insisted that Amazon and eBay be excluded from the comparison shopping remedies in the aborted settlement discussions with former Commissioner Almunia. How is that consistent with its argument today? It’s not.”

ICOMP, another group representing the interests of Google’s rivals, claimed Google was trying to “divert attention away from the devastating impact its self-preferencing has had on the online market”.

In a statement, it also bemoaned the fact that an oral hearing would not take place.

“The decision is in Google’s hands, but holding a hearing could provide a unique opportunity for Google to present its full defence and for complainants and other interested third parties to offer their perspectives,” ICOMP explained.

Another complainant in the case, HotMap.com director Michael Weber, said that under European law, consumers and competitors have a right to expect unpaid and unbiased real search results.

“With Google’s 90 per cent-plus market share, as a merchant you better pay Google to be displayed in its 'Innovations' or you won't see notable amounts of traffic from search. Naming the other giants, eBay and Amazon, as a defence is no justification that Google abuses its dominance in search, and gives small and medium-sized online merchants mostly paid traffic."

"These companies in turn have to add the cost for Google ads to their calculation, raising consumer prices or lowering quality, while Google's coffers get filled with cash for their moonshots,” he added.

But Vinje believes all is not lost. “Google is perfectly capable of implementing a remedy that provides equal treatment both to its own product comparison service and to those of others. The Commission is completely correct that this is the only remedy that is principles-based and future proof,” he said.

He added that it was likely the Commission would impose a fine, but that it would not significantly hurt the coffers of the Chocolate Factory. “We’re more interested in real remedies,” he concluded.

The Register contacted Google for a comment, but they declined to respond. ®


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