A trial of Google’s attempts to avoid European Union censure around anti-competitive search behaviors looks set to struggle to gain necessary agreement from rivals, with the concessions in testing insufficient to satisfy the complaints. The EC announced yesterday that it would begin a month-long test of Google’s proposed methods to dilute the over-dominance of the European search market that it has been accused of, including giving three rival services positions on its results page right next to its own. However, the concessions are already failing to win over critics.
First out the gate is European consumer association the BEUC, which took issue with Google’s offer to flag up – with a border or some other method – results that had been prioritized from its own services, such as Google Shopping. “We do not think [Google’s] proposals can credible achieve these targets” the agency says, pointing out that the highlighting system might perversely work in Google’s favor.
“Labelling results will do little or indeed nothing to prevent Google from manipulating search results and discriminating against competing services” the BEUC argues. “It may even shepherd consumers towards clicking on Google services now highlighted in a frame.”
“Infringements of competition rules call for strong and rigorous structural remedies where needed, going beyond the halfway house of consumer information. Labelling an infringement of competition law doesn’t prevent it being an infringement” BEUC
Meanwhile, Fairsearch Europe – a group made up of Microsoft, Nokia, Trip Advisor, and others – has also weighed in, similarly unimpressed, and promising “empirical evidence” as to why Google’s proposed salves simple won’t do.
We have always said that the best remedy for consumers and innovation would be to require Google to apply the same policy to search results for its own products as it does to all others. “Google’s proposed commitments appear to fall short of ending the preferential treatment at the heart of the Commission’s case based on formal complaints from 17 companies” Fairsearch argues, and alleges that in fact Google is still demanding preferential treatment.
“Google’s own screen shots in its proposal shows it seeks approval to continue preferential treatment for its own products” Fairsearch Europe
The BEUC also takes issue with the idea of Google self-governing its modifications, a route which it claims will lead only to another type of dominance in European search. “The proposal to display links to three rival specialised services raises the natural question of who decides the promotional criteria” BEUC points out. “If that is Google, it leaves too much discretion in their lap while most importantly, not solving the problem of non-discriminatory choices for consumers.”
The EC had proposed installing an “independent Monitoring Trustee” if the month-long trial went well, who would be responsible for making sure Google stuck to its agreements for the full length of the five-year concessions.
However, the BEUC has more stringent suggestions [pdf link] for how the matter should be resolved, including Google giving no highlighted placement to any of its own products, and instead “crawl, index, and rank its own services in exactly the same way it does everybody else.” The organization also wants tougher penalties should Google not comply, though the EC can currently fine the company up to 10-percent of its global revenues under existing rules.