Google ridiculed as “peculiar and problematic” demands by EU antitrust regulators to change the way that it displays search results.
The US internet giant yesterday filed its reply to an EU complaint that accused it of wielding its market power to quell competition in the comparison-shopping market.
The European Commission’s patience with Google snapped in April after three settlement bids failed to satisfy critics.
EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager fired off a so-called statement of objections threatening fines and enforced changes to the way search results are displayed.
The EU “seeks a peculiar and problematic remedy, requiring that Google show ads sourced and ranked by other companies within our advertising space,” Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel, said in a blog post summarising Google’s written response, which was due by August 31.
“We show in our response that this would harm the quality and relevance of our results.”
Google’s arguments were countered by Thomas Vinje, lawyer with Clifford Chance who represents FairSearch Europe, whose members include Microsoft Expedia and Nokia Oyj.
“Google is perfectly capable of implementing a remedy that provides equal treatment both to its own product-comparison service and to those of others,” Vinje said in a statement.
That would be a “future-proof” solution after Google “decimated competition” by giving preference to its own product-comparison service in its search results, he said.
The EU has been probing allegations since 2010 that Google’s search page isn’t fair when people seek services. Sending an antitrust complaint spelling out where the EU thinks Google is breaking the law pushed the probe into new territory.
Google presented traffic analysis to rebut allegations in the statement of objections that it prevented shopping aggregators from reaching consumers, Walker said.
Additionally, it cited economic data and rival statements showing that product search is “robustly competitive”.
“We show why the SO is incorrect in failing to consider the impact of major shopping services like Amazon and eBay, who are the largest players in this space,” Walker said.
The commission “will carefully consider Google’s response before taking any decision on how to proceed,” Ricardo Cardoso, a spokesman for the EU regulator, said in a statement.
If the regulator’s concerns are confirmed, the EU said Google could face a fine large enough to act as a deterrent.
Any penalty would be based on factors including revenue from Google’s AdWords services relating to clicks from European users; revenue from its price-comparison website; and revenue from product queries, according to the statement of objections.
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