Google is once again in hot water. This time from the European Commission, which has opened an antitrust investigation into allegations that the company abused a dominant position in online search, which could be in violation of European Union rules.
The opening of the formal proceedings are due to complaints by search service providers, such as rival upstart Bing, moaning about unfavourable treatment of services in Google’s unpaid and sponsored search results – coupled with an alleged preferential placement of Google’s own services.
Although the Commission has said that at this stage it has no proof of any infringements, it will carry out an urgent in-depth investigation of these claims.
Google’s search engine provides for two types of results when people are searching for information. There are unpaid search results, which can be referred to as “natural”, “organic” or “algorithmic” search results, and third party advertisements shown at the top and at the right hand side of Google’s search results page, which are paid search results or sponsored links.
The Commission said that it will investigate whether Google has abused a dominant market position in online search by allegedly lowering the ranking of unpaid search results of competing services, which are specialised in providing users with specific online content such as price comparisons, as well as preferential placement to the results of its own vertical search services in order to shut out competing services.
It will also investigate reports that Google lowered the ‘Quality Score’ for sponsored links of competing vertical search services as well as allegations that Google imposes exclusivity obligations on advertising partners.
This practice prevents partners from placing certain types of competing ads on their web sites, as well as on computer and software vendors, with the aim of shutting out competing search tools.
Finally, it will investigate suspected restrictions on the portability of online advertising campaign data to competing online advertising platforms.
The Commission has informed the company about this decision. The Competition Authorities of the Member States have also been informed.