Italy’s anti-trust watchdog is investigating allegations by Italian newspapers that Google Italy is discriminating against newspapers that don’t want their content linked on Google’s news site by dropping them from its search engine.
Google said the newspapers were free to remove themselves from Google News while still remaining on its search engine.
Italy’s financial police conducted an inspection of Google Italy’s offices, part of its probe looking into whether Google might have an unfair advantage in reaping online advertising.
The Italian Federation of Newspaper Publishers has charged that having some of their newspapers’ content appear on Google News Italia hurt their own efforts to attract users and advertising on their own home pages, the anti-trust statement said.
Google says its Google News generates enormous traffic to newspaper sites, sending over 1 billion clicks per month to news publishers.
The publishers have complained that Google is “allegedly hindering publishers in freely choosing ways of allowing use of news published on their own Internet sites,” the antitrust authority said.
The publishers contend that the “editorial sites that don’t want to appear on Google News (Italia), would be automatically excluded from Google’s search engine,” the antitrust authority said.
A Google Italy spokeswoman, Simona Panseri, declined to comment on the specifics of the allegations while the antitrust investigation is being conducted. But, speaking in general, Panseri contended that a “request to be excluded from Google News doesn’t imply being excluded” from Google’s search engine.
Google News’ Josh Cohen, senior business product manager, said that publishers were in complete control as to whether their content appears in Google services. They can be removed altogether, or can opt to appear in a Google Web search but not in Google News.
“In that case, all they need to do is contact us to be removed,” he said in a blog post. “In fact, we met with several Italian publishers and representatives of FIEG just this summer to explain these options.”
Readers who click on headlines posted on Google News Italia site are linked directly to the newspapers’ site, where they can read the full story.
The Italian newspaper publishers’ complaint reflects a common claim elsewhere that Google News is diverting readers away from newspaper home pages, while Google says it ends up increasing the traffic to newspaper websites.
As its power has grown, Google has come under increasing scrutiny of anti-trust regulators around the world, in particular in the United States.