Editorial

Google under the lens

After a five-year-long process, the European Commission has announced >a formal investigation into claims of unfair practices resorted to by Google. The allegation is that the company has abused its dominant position in the ‘market for internet search services’ in Europe. One of the chief accusations relates to the working of comparison shopping in Google. ‘Comparison shopping products’ allow consumers to search online shopping websites and compare prices among vendors. The EC’s preliminary investigations found systematic favourable treatment being given to Google Shopping, its own comparison shopping product, by presenting the service more prominently than rival services. This artificially moves traffic among websites in a manner that is potentially detrimental to consumers and stifles innovation. Google is also being accused of anti-competitive behaviour in relation to its Android operating system, hindering developers from freely working on Android, meant to be an open-source system. The p >otential for “abuse of [the] dominant position” is high in Europe as Google has an over 90 per cent share in the online search business here. If the Commission is able to take its move to fruition, the fine could potentially be up to 10 per cent of Google’s annual revenue, or about €6 billion.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission had also conducted antitrust investigations concerning Google, but the company agreed to make certain changes in its manner of operation and the investigation was ultimately settled with no formal complaint being made. The Competition Commission of India has found Google to be in a “dominant position” in the market for online search advertising. The CCI is investigating whether Google is abusing this position. In India, complaints have been filed over alleged discriminatory practices in its search advertising services. These involve the manipulation of search algorithms in such a manner that Google promotes its own search partners by mixing the results of its vertical partners with its generic, horizontal web search results. For instance, Google’s vertical search partners such as YouTube, Google News and Google Maps will appear predominantly, irrespective of whether it is a generic horizontal search or it is the most popular or relevant result. Another complaint was that Google’s User Safety and AdWords Policy was arbitrary, vague and one-sided, letting it terminate advertisement campaigns. Google undoubtedly has come to have a major influence on a large section of the global population. There is a clear case today to argue that Google should make its policies more transparent. But given the confidentiality issues at stake, this is unlikely to happen in the near future.

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Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 2:28:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/google-under-the-lens/article7126841.ece

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