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Google fined $21.1M for search bias in India

Natasha Lomas
India's competition commission has issued a 1.36BN rupees (~$21.1M)

Another antitrust fine for Google. India's competition commission has issued a 1.36BN rupees (~$21.1M) penalty on the search giant for abusing its dominant position in the local search market for online general web search and web search advertising services.

"Google was leveraging its dominance in the market for online general web search, to strengthen its position in the market for online syndicate search services. The competitors were denied access to the online search syndication services market due to such a conduct, writes the Competition Commission of India (CCI) in a press release.

"Further, prohibitions imposed under the negotiated search intermediation agreements upon the publishers have been held to be unfair as they restricted the choice of these partners and prevented them from using the search services provided by competing search engines."

Detailing a specific instance of Google's search bias, the CCI says its investigation found that Google was directing web users who were searching for flights to its own flight search page -- and thereby disadvantaging businesses trying to gain market access, while also unfairly imposing its products on users of general search services as well.

The watchdog did also clear Google of any competition violations related to other elements of its business -- specifically specialized search design (OneBoxes), AdWords, online intermediation and distribution agreements.

The original complaint against the company was filed in India in 2012 by a local matchmaking website.

Commenting on the order, a Google spokesman told us: "We have always focused on innovating to support the evolving needs of our users. The Competition Commission of India has confirmed that, on the majority of issues it examined, our conduct complies with Indian competition laws.

"We are reviewing the narrow concerns identified by the Commission and will assess our next steps," he added.

The size of the CCI's fine was calculated based on Google's revenue from its operations in India only, and equates to around 5 per cent of its turnover in the market.

Meanwhile Google's parent company, Alphabet, reported full year revenue of $110.8BN for 2017. So $21M really is just pocket change for the US tech giant -- which also continues to flesh out the feature set of its vertical search products.

Last summer the European Union's Competition Commission made its presence more firmly felt by slapping Google with a record breaking $2.7BN antitrust fine relating to the Google Shopping search comparison service and following a multi years investigation.

In that case search placement that privileges Google's own commercial products also got the company into hot water.

The EC's antitrust watchdog objected to it systematically privileging its own shopping product in search results and also found that it had been demoting rival vertical search services in its general search results. That combination of actions was deemed illegal under the bloc's competition rules.

In the EU Google has since made changes to how it displays shopping search results to try to remedy the situation -- and avoid further fines -- by letting anyone bid for the ads it displays at the top of product-related search results.

However recent analysis of how that remedy is working suggests it's not made material difference to competitors -- with Google's own shopping search ads still accounting for more than 99 per cent of the ads displaying alongside shopping searches. And Google rivals have called for more changes.

The EU watchdog is also continuing to actively investigate other areas of Google's business, including its Android operating system.

And has publicly acknowledged complaints against other Google products -- including maps and travel search, with the bloc's antitrust chief suggesting it may open other investigations.

 

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