Competition Commission of India accuses Google of abusing search dominance

1 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Competition panel accuses Google of abusing search dominance.

India’s competition investigators have accused Google of abusing its market dominance in online searches in the country, deepening the US Internet giant’s woes with governments around the world. The Google Redress and Integrity Platform, or GRIP as it wants to be known, has been set-up by a European public affairs consultancy firm called Avisa, and law firm Hausfeld.The inquiry revolves around complaints filed by several websites contending that Google has been unfairly highlighting its own services in its search results at the expense of its rivals. A preliminary report from the quasi-judicial regulatory body found fault with Google’s handling of its online advertising services and search results, said the people.

GRIP says its main goal is to “evaluate the potential damage claims arising from Google’s anticompetitive behaviour.” In other words, this is a prelude to potential civil lawsuits brought about by European companies seeking redress from Google over long-standing anti-competition accusations. Google, which just last month appointed India-born Sundar Pichai as its new CEO, is already facing a billion-euro fine from the European Union after accusations the company cheated competitors by distorting Internet search results in favour of its shopping service. Complaints in India were lodged against Google in 2012 including by Bharat Matrimony, an online matrimonial site, and the nonprofit consumer protection group Consumer Unity and Trust Society.

European regulators are still examining whether Google manipulated other types of search results to keep traffic away from sites that could diminish its advertising sales. Society director Udai Mehta said its complaint was aimed at trying to ensure online companies adhere to “competition principles” for the benefit of consumers.

Antitrust regulators in the US wrapped up a probe into Google’s practices in 2013 without requiring that the company make any major changes to how it ranks websites. According to the norms, the Director General’s report is not binding on the CCI and a final decision in this long-running case will be made by the seven-member commission headed by chairman Ashok Chawla. According to a report in the Economic Times, Flipkart, Facebook, Nokia’s maps division, makemytrip.com and several other companies have corroborated complaints that Google allegedly abused its dominant market position in their response to queries by the CCI. Udai Mehta, assistant director at CUTS, said if the final ruling too finds Google guilty, the CCI can either order the company to halt what it deems unfair practices or fine it even as much as 10% of its revenues. It has been argued that the Internet giant favors its own myriad of services over its rivals’, including flights, restaurants, and other e-commerce offerings.

While Google has naturally refuted these claims, recently stating that improving quality isn’t anti-competitive, there is a rising tide of resentment against the company in Europe. A guilty verdict could impact Google’s growth in India, where it dominates Internet searches among the country’s 300 million online users and is increasingly launching its Android phones and other initiatives to get more people on its operating system.

It’s important to note here that GRIP isn’t another lobbying group — it’s pitching itself as the go-to body for companies seeking a slice of Google’s cash, should regulators rule against the U.S. firm. GRIP, too, will of course be looking to cash-in on the initiative. “So far, the focus has been on public enforcement,” explained Laurent Geelhand, managing partner at Hausfeld, in an interview with the New York Times. “But what’s still missing is how this has financially affected the victims.” Avisa has been involved in the ongoing European Commission (E.C.) investigation since 2009, and has hitherto provided assistance to French Web search company 1plusV, which was one of the companies that sparked the initial EC investigation. As for GRIP, following an initial appraisal by Avisa, any cases deemed to hold significant weight will be referred to Hausfeld for further assessment, before deciding on the next steps.

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