Price comparison sites complain to FCA about Google's promotion of its own rival services

Out-Law News | 03 Jun 2014 | 3:22 pm | 2 min. read

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is assessing the way Google displays search results for keyword terms relevant to the insurance and price comparison market following industry complaints, according to a report by a national newspaper.

The Daily Telegraph has reported that the regulator has received complaints from price comparison businesses which are concerned that Google is giving undue prominence to its own price comparison services. Google's services are displayed beside adverts price comparison companies have paid for and have been given an artificial boost in natural search results, they have reportedly said.

The companies are concerned that Google's services are being artificially promoted in the search results and that they have been given undue prominence over links to the price comparison sites they offer, according to the report.

The FCA is currently in the middle of a thematic review of the price comparison and insurance markets and is scrutinising Google's activity as part of this review, the Telegraph's report said.

When it launched its thematic review in November 2013, the FCA said that it was seeking to understand whether information is being displayed in a manner that allows consumers to obtain the "fairest deal". It said it was concerned that consumers may be buying less comprehensive insurance cover than they expect as a result of how information is presented on price comparison sites.

Google's search practices have been the subject of a long-running EU competition investigation in recent years. The European Commission investigated the company and found that it may have abused its dominant market position in the search market. Its primary concern has been with the way Google displays links to its own services relative to those of rivals.

Google proposed a number of changes to its practices in a bid to resolve the Commission's concerns and avoid a fine for a breach of EU competition laws and the company and the Commission reached a proposed settlement of the case in February this year. A number of Google's rivals in the market maintain that the proposed measures do not address the competition concerns.

“Given the FCA is in the middle of a thematic review of price comparison websites and the market they operate in it is natural that their attention would also be drawn to look at the role of search engines, particularly in light of how important it is for price comparison services to place high up in search rankings to win customers,” said financial services regulation and technology expert John Salmon of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

In a document published in March which outlined its preliminary financial results for 2013, price comparison service Moneysupermarket.com said that changes Google had made to the way its search rankings work in the middle of last year had impacted on its revenues.

“The Group lost some of its leading positions for some of the key search terms in motor and home insurance,” the company said. “This reduced visitors from natural search and consequently revenues from home and motor insurance.”