As expected this morning the European Commission filed a formal Statement of Objections against Google. These are formal charges that Google abused its market position in search in Europe. Google will get a chance to rebut them but the outlook for Google is not great.
Google competitors and critics had been vigorously lobbying for this for several years and actively worked to defeat the prior “rival links” settlement negotiated by former European Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia.
The core of the EU’s objections and “case” against Google focuses on vertical search results and the degree to which Google “favors its own properties” vs. competitors in the SERP, potentially harming competition. For various reasons the Federal Trade Commission in the US declined to file a case against Google.
Simultaneously today the EU also opened an Android antitrust investigation against Google. My guess is that will result in Google being forced to relax some of its rules around access to Google Play and app pre-install requirements. But the investigation could drag on for some time, as with the search case — which was a five-year investigation and negotiation.
Most interesting to me about the Statement of Objections filed today is that it narrowly focuses on comparison shopping and doesn’t get into other “vertical search” areas such as travel and local. These had been hotly argued and contested. Yelp even developed a very interesting, concrete algorithmic approach about how to address “search bias” in local results.
The Statement of Objections today doesn’t preclude other claims in the future. The Commission says it’s still “actively investigating” other vertical search categories:
Today’s Statement of Objections relates to the first of those concerns. In the context of that concern, the Commission continues to actively investigate Google’s conduct as regards the alleged more favourable treatment of other specialised search services.
Yet it’s curious that the Commission didn’t go forward with a broader claim that Google favors “its own properties” in these other areas. (Indeed, the rival links settlement examples were often local search results.) Is that because it sees shopping as the “strongest” or most egregious case? By the same token does it see maps/local and travel as “weaker” and would favor Google’s arguments?
I’m not sure what the rationale is. I’m curious about your thoughts? Why isn’t local included since it was one of the key areas that Yelp and other publishers complained and lobbied about?