The story so far: On October 6, the News Broadcasters and Digital Association (NBDA) approached the Competition Commission of India (CCI) against search-engine operator Google, alleging that the latter had deprived them of their justifiable revenue acquired from news dissemination on the tech-giant’s platforms. The complaint would be clubbed with similar cases filed by the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) in February this year and the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) last year.
Why is Google dominant?
As per the NBDA, Google’s search engine commands a 94% market share in the country. The number becomes all the more crucial for news publishers with the increased transition toward news consumption online (inclusive of app-based consumption). The traditional newspaper industry in India has sustained itself on a business model wherein advertising accounts for two-third of its total revenue. On similar lines, with online proliferation, there is an increased reliance of news publishers on digital ad revenues, and in turn, tech-based companies. More than half of the total traffic on news websites is routed through Google. The search engine, by way of its algorithms and internal quality vetting, determines which news websites would be prioritised in search queries. Essential to understand here is that search engines are an important determinant in online news consumption. Readers would more often opt for an online web search rather than reaching out to a specific news website by typing its URL in a browser. This has made search-engines the first port of call for information online.
What are the key allegations?
Google has been found to be dominant in both markets of relevance to digital publishers — online web search services and digital advertising services. A news website sells advertising spaces on its platform through ad-exchanges. In addition to this, Google also operates a platform that manages a publisher’s sale of online ads and tools to purchase display ad space. The central contestation among the parties holds that the tech-giant has not compensated news publishers for their contribution to (Google’s various) platforms and has engaged in practices to bolster its monopoly in the space. The DNPA had put forth that website publishers receive only 51% of the advertisement revenue. It has been alleged that owing to the tech-giant’s dominance in the space, publishers have been “forced” to integrate content on their platforms. They have no other alternative but to trade in the company’s exchanges and use its buying tool, Google Ads/DV 360, to receive bids from advertisers.
In addition to this, the search-engine operator has been accused of encouraging members to disable header bidding. It refers to a programmatic bidding process that unifies multiple exchanges for a single bidding event. Additionally, the tech-giant has been accused of “forcing” members into using their Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) or building mirror-like ‘light-weight’ webpages. Failure to do so would have bothered their placements in mobile search. However, it restricted paywall options unless publishers rebuild their websites as per AMP standards. It is essential to note here that if the reader does not click on the snippets and enter their websites, it limits the website’s potential to earn revenue. A search-engine would not be bothered substantially for the same user might later search for non-news content on the same platform.And lastly, directing an investigation into the matter earlier this year, The CCI had, earlier this year, also made a note of the tech-giant’s alleged “unilateral and non-transparent” determination and sharing of ad revenues. “The case also brings forth the issue of alleged lack of transparency and information asymmetry in the ad-tech services provided by Google, which does not optimise the yield on their ad inventory,” the order read. This bothers the quality of services and innovation in the news realm.
What is happening outside India?
In February this year, the European Publishers Council filed an anti-trust complaint against Google with the European Commission, challenging its existing “ad tech stranglehold” over press publishers. “Google’s ad-tech suite is rife with conflicts of interests, as Google represents the buyer and the seller in the same transaction, while also operating the auction house in the middle, and selling its own inventory,” its statement read.
Australia introduced the ‘Media Bargaining Code’ in February to address the imbalance. As reported by Reuters, the code requires news outlets to negotiate commercial deals individually or collectively with Facebook and Google with violations calling for civil penalties of up to $10 million. The tech firms would also have to give media outlets notice when they change search algorithms that may affect publishers’ content. On multiple occasions, Google has expressed concerns over such legislations. “The internet was built on the ability to link freely between websites, which allows people to easily browse the internet. Changing this would fundamentally break the way the open web works, and how people use Google search,” an executive had argued in a blogpost.
According to Google, the revenues accrued are spent towards defraying the costs of running “a complex and evolving business” such as maintaining data centres, further technological investments, enabling innovations that increase publisher revenue and maximising advertiser return on investment, among other things.
- As per the NBDA, Google’s search engine commands a 94% market share in the country. The number becomes all the more crucial for news publishers with the increased transition toward news consumption online (inclusive of app-based consumption)As per the NBDA, Google’s search engine commands a 94% market share in the country. The number becomes all the more crucial for news publishers with the increased transition toward news consumption online (inclusive of app-based consumption).
- Google has been found to be dominant in both markets of relevance to digital publishers — online web search services and digital advertising services
- In addition to this, the search-engine operator has been accused of encouraging members to disable header bidding. It refers to a programmatic bidding process that unifies multiple exchanges for a single bidding event.