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EU investigates whether retailers get a fair deal from Google

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Whether retailers – and consumers – get a fair deal in the way their products show up on Google came under the spotlight this week, as the European Commission stepped up its antitrust investigation into the company.

At the core of the investigation is the question of whether products that are advertised on Google Shopping appear higher up in consumer search results than those advertised on other shopping comparison services.

The EC this week sent a statement of objections to Google alleging that it “systematically” favours results from its own comparison shopping product in its search results pages. This, it argues, represents abuse of its dominant position in the search market.

“The Commission’s objective,” said Margrethe Vestager, EU Commissioner in charge of competition policy, “is to apply EU antitrust rules to ensure that companies operating in Europe, wherever they may be based, do not artificially deny European consumers as wide a choice as possible or stifle innovation.

“In the case of Google I am concerned that the company has given an unfair advantage to its own comparison shopping service, in breach of EU antitrust rules. Google now has the opportunity to convince the Commission to the contrary. However, if the investigation confirmed our concerns, Google would have to face the legal consequences and change the way it does business in Europe.”

In a post on the Google blog, Amit Singhal, senior vice president at Google Search, argued that the EC’s move was unnecessary since there was strong competition within the retail search market from retailers including Amazon and eBay as well as search engines from Bing to Yahoo and more. The market, he said, was also a highly innovative one. This, he argued, was something that would not be the case in a market dominated by just one player.

“While Google may be the most used search engine,” he said, “people can now find and access information in numerous different ways, and allegations of harm, for consumers and competitors, have proved to be wide of the mark.”

At the same time, the EC is also investigating antitrust concerns in relation to the Google’s conduct in respect of the Android mobile operating system.

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