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European Commission fines Google over online shopping search results

Out-Law News | 27 Jun 2017 | 2:47 pm | 1 min. read

The European Commission has imposed a €2.4 million fine on Google after criticising the way it displays product search results.

The Commission said the company gave "prominent placement to its own comparison shopping service" in the search results it indexed and also demoted links to similar services run by rivals. It said Google was responsible for a breach of EU competition law as a result. Its findings concern search results in 13 European countries, including the UK and Germany.

"Google's illegal practices have had a significant impact on competition between Google's own comparison shopping service and rival services," the Commission said. "They allowed Google's comparison shopping service to make significant gains in traffic at the expense of its rivals and to the detriment of European consumers."

Google said it disagreed with the Commission's findings and that it could appeal. It said the search results it displays reflect the wishes of consumers and that the regulator had not given sufficient consideration to the competition it faces from online platforms such as Amazon and eBay.

In a statement confirming the Commission's actions, EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said Google had "denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate".

"Google has come up with many innovative products and services that have made a difference to our lives," Vestager said. "That's a good thing. But Google's strategy for its comparison shopping service wasn't just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals. Instead, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors."

Kent Walker, Google senior vice president and general counsel, said Google's search results have evolved over the years and benefit both businesses that advertise their products online as well as online consumers.

Walker said: "When you shop online, you want to find the products you’re looking for quickly and easily. And advertisers want to promote those same products. That's why Google shows shopping ads, connecting our users with thousands of advertisers, large and small, in ways that are useful for both."

"We believe the European Commission's ... decision underestimates the value of those kinds of fast and easy connections. While some comparison shopping sites naturally want Google to show them more prominently, our data show that people usually prefer links that take them directly to the products they want, not to websites where they have to repeat their searches," he said.

Walker said the search results displayed by the company are "the result of hard work and constant innovation, based on user feedback".

"Given the evidence, we respectfully disagree with the conclusions announced today," he said. "We will review the Commission’s decision in detail as we consider an appeal, and we look forward to continuing to make our case."