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Google wins High Court fight with StreetMap over search results self-pluggery

Dominant? Yes. Abusive? No, rules the judge

Google has won a High Court case brought by StreetMap over anticompetitive business practices, one of several in the legal pipeline.

Streetmap first sued Google in April 2013, arguing that Google’s search dominance favoured its own Google Maps product.

In June 2007, the Californian multinational had begun promoting Google Maps by returning a graphic positioned on almost all location results. StreetMap argued that this led to a “dramatic loss of traffic”.

“We say that’s not normal competition because normal competition would be for Google to compete on the quality of the maps,” lawyers for StreetMap had argued.

“StreetMap has been frozen in time; because of what Google did, StreetMap has not been able to properly invest in the website since 2007,” according to StreetMaps' Kate Sutton.

Lawyers argued that Google failed to show evidence of compliance with UK competition law by failing to test the impact a new product might make.

Google’s counter-argument was that rivals didn’t add sufficient value, and had begun to decline long before Google’s more aggressive promotion of its own product.

Judge Peter Roth agreed with Google that while it held a dominant position, “it did not commit an abuse” of it. He also refused StreetMap permission to appeal against his judgment.

Wider impact

In a statement, StreetMaps' legal representatives argue that the decision has a chilling effect on small businesses, and the company had failed to perform the market testing that a dominant player should carry out.

“The decision makes it effectively impossible for a small business to bring a competition law complaint until it is too late, because the information required will simply not be known to them. By raising the standard of proof from probability to 'appreciable effect' a complainant needs to have information which will usually only be known to the dominant company.”

Guidance issued by the Office of Fair Trading (pdf) clearly lists the four-stage process a company needs to take: risk identification; risk assessment; risk mitigation; and review. Even small businesses should undertake the process, the OFT advises. Yet Google’s dominance of so many internet platforms (a potted list can be found in this Reg story, or this pdf) did not make a difference to company executives.

“This decision says that companies do not need to have evidence of compliance at the time, so long as they can find something later that may work as a defence,” Tim Cowen, partner at Preiskel & Co, the solicitors acting for StreetMap, commented. ®

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