Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Google facing High Court case after UK maps rival submits complaint about its search practices

Out-Law News | 15 Apr 2013 | 3:59 pm | 2 min. read

A UK technology firm that provides internet maps has initiated legal action against Google in the High Court in which it has claimed that it has been the victim of anti-competitive practices engaged in by the internet giant.

Streetmap said that its business has been negatively impacted on by the way Google's search engine indexes search results. The company said its court action in the High Court is "complementary" to the European Commission's on-going investigation into Google's search practices.

"This is about choice and about Google’s refusal to provide end users with a choice or to compete on fair reasonable and non discriminatory terms with smaller competitors," Kate Sutton, Streetmap's commercial director, said in a statement. "We have had to take this action in an effort to protect our business and attract attention to those that, like us, have started their own technology businesses, only to find them damaged by Google's cynical manipulation of search results."

Last May, the Commission called on Google to propose changes to its search practices after deeming that the company had abused its dominant market position in the industry. According to a report by Reuters news agency, Google has now submitted formal proposals to resolve the Commission's concerns. The Commission has not revealed what the proposals entail, but the plans will have to be market tested, with feedback sought from rivals, before the Commission decides whether to accept them and make them legally binding, the report said. [Drafting note: we do not know yet whether the Commission will consider the proposed remedies of sufficient nature to actually market test them – hence the change in language]

Microsoft, TripAdvisor and a host of other companies have claimed that Google artificially promotes results for its own services and unjustly demotes results for services run by rivals. Google has refuted the claims. Last year, UK search company Foundem detailed the remedies it said Google should be required to implement to resolve competition concerns.

Streetmap, which is also one of the companies to have complained to the Commission about Google's search practices, said that Google has abused a dominant position in the search market.

"At the centre of the case is the customer’s right to choose," Streetmap said. "This choice is distorted by Google's dominance in internet search, and its practice of promoting its own products. In this case Google promotes Google Maps, and makes those of Google's competitors, such as Streetmap, harder to find."

"When introduced Google Maps had little traction in the UK market. Streetmap and others were in widespread use. Through its promotion of Google maps and its practice of making other internet maps harder to find, Google places its maps in front of customers, unfairly embedding its maps in search results, and damaging competition between internet mapping companies. Many people believe that Google searches produce unbiased results. In reality, as the self promotion and bundling of Google Maps with search demonstrates, Google manipulates the results for its own benefit," the company added.

Earlier this year US regulator the Federal Trade Commission announced that it was closing an investigation into alleged "search bias" by Google after determining that "innovations" the company has introduced into the market were justified even though it said rivals may have been harmed by the measures. However, Google agreed to make some changes to its advertising practices to resolve concerns about the ability of businesses to run coordinated advertising campaigns across Google and others' platforms.

Google's practices in the mobile market have also come in for criticism. Earlier this month FairSearch, an umbrella body representing companies including Microsoft, Expedia, TripAdvisor and Oracle, submitted a complaint to the European Commission in which it complained about alleged anti-competitive agreements Google has formed with mobile device manufacturers.

FairSearch said that Google has engaged in "deceptive conduct" in order to ensure that those manufacturers that adopt Google's Android operating system also support other software and services offered by the internet giant.

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