Commentary

Google Defends Search Results To EU Antitrust Officials

Several weeks ago, Google defied French authorities who wanted the company to broaden the "right to be forgotten" by censoring search results worldwide.

Now, Google is making clear that it's also gearing up for a separate battle with the EU's antitrust regulators. The European Commission recently accused the company of violating antitrust laws with its paid "Shopping Unit" -- a block of ads with images that appear in the search results pages when users query for specific products. Specifically, European officials reportedly found that Google harmed competitors by touting its own comparison shopping service.

Google fired back today, arguing that its search results aren't anticompetitive. On the contrary, Google says, its search results -- organic as well as paid -- drive traffic to competing comparison shopping sites.

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"Economic data spanning more than a decade, an array of documents, and statements from complainants all confirm that product search is robustly competitive," general counsel Kent Walker writes in a blog post. "The universe of shopping services has seen an enormous increase in traffic from Google, diverse new players, new investments, and expanding consumer choice. Google delivered more than 20 billion free clicks to aggregators over the last decade ... with free traffic increasing by 227% (and total traffic increasing even more)."

He added that Google's "Shopping Unit," which launched in 2012, benefits retailers and consumers. "Showing ads based on structured data provided by merchants demonstrably improves ad quality and makes it easier for consumers to find what they’re looking for," Walker writes. "That’s not 'favoring' -- that’s giving our customers and advertisers what they find most useful."

Walker also noted that the EU's charges -- the product of an investigation that started five years ago -- don't take into account "the impact of major shopping services like Amazon and eBay, who are the largest players in this space." (Walker doesn't mention it in his blog post, but one recent study found that most consumers (64%) who want to make online purchases start by looking at marketplaces, while fewer than half (40%) start with search engines.)

Google isn't just facing complaints in the EU about the "right to be forgotten" or its shopping ads. Authorities in Europe reportedly also are investigating whether the company unfairly restricts advertisers, as well as whether it abused Android's dominance in mobile operating systems.

If the antitrust officials ultimately rule against Google, they could fine the company up to 10% of its annual revenue.

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