The competition commission of India (CCI) recently launched a fresh probe against Google on a complaint alleging anti-competitive practices adopted by Google.
Google is alleged to be abusing its dominant position by imposing unfair and discriminatory conditions in various ways including, inter alia, creating a search bias which drives its customers to see only such ancillary services as owned and operated by Google by manipulating searches and tweaking with the algorithmic as well as paid search results by penalising certain websites and advertisers.
Google has also been alleged to be denying access of ancillary sites and services operated by it to content to other search engines.
In simple words, who then is impacted by these alleged anti-competitive practices of Google?
A consumer is denied access to best service providers, who are masked away to appear after the listing of services by Google or its affiliates.
Competing search engines:
“Advertise your business on Google
No matter what your budget, you can display your ads on Google and our advertising network. Pay only if people click your ads.”
Ads like the above promising promotion of business through Google basis a success fee working on people clicking the ads are based on manipulating the listing and appearance of the ads which are detrimental to similar ads on competing search engines.
Competing service providers:
Service providers competing with similar services being provided by Google are alleged to be masked away to appear far below and in any event after Google’s own competing services are displayed to consumers, allegedly because of Google manipulating the searches.
In the Indian context, Google's search engine is very popularly relied on to find anything and everything, with utmost faith and belief in the search results being accurate, fair and transparent.
This scale of acceptance obviously did not meet with Google’s business plans and hence Google is now alleged to be playing on this acceptance and faith to promote its other services by manipulating its searches to oust competition and competitors.
YouTube, Google Maps, Google News, Google Weather, Google Finance etc get a preference over other similar service providers.
Competitors are complaining about being ousted by the Google and consumers are being denied fair access, apart from competing search engines alleging denial of access to Google’s services for their consumers.
If the allegations have any merit, can Google justify the manipulations by merely saying that:
– the format of the Search Engine is designed to show consumers the information they are looking for quickly and conveniently.
– In case consumers are not happy with Google’s search engine, competition is just one click away.
It is here that Google may be playing on the wide acceptability, faith and habit of the consumers to use Google search engine without knowledge of the alleged manipulations by Google.
CCI is not the first to take note of such allegations against Google and initiate investigations.
In 2010, the European Commission opened an antitrust investigation into allegations that Google Inc. had abused a dominant position in online search, in violation of European Union rules following complaints by search service providers about unfavorable treatment of their services in Google's unpaid and sponsored search results coupled with an alleged preferential placement of Google's own services.
The European Commission's probe would additionally also focus on further allegations against Google that Google imposes exclusivity obligations on advertising partners, preventing them from placing certain types of competing ads on their websites, as well as on computer and software vendors, with the aim of shutting out competing search tools.
Last heard, Google had submitted a package of concessions to the European Commission to settle the allegations being investigated to avoid a fine of up to 10 percent of its revenue – based on its 2011 results, this would be nearly $4 billion, if found guilty.
In April 2012, the Federal Court of Appeal of Australia (FCAA) upheld the finds of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) against Google’s similar anti-competitive practices.
The FCAA also directed Google to put in place a consumer law compliance programme and pay the ACCC's costs of the appeal.
The outcome of similar investigations elsewhere apart, the CCI has a clear mandate to prevent and penalize and anti-competitive or dominant conduct in the market place.
However, having kept the relief to consumers outside the scope of the CCI, there has always been a slip between the cup and the lip and the affected consumers are yet to get the benefit of outcome of CCI investigations.
Compensating the consumers for the wrong done to them is still a few miles away waiting to be covered by our regulators & lawmakers.