Thursday 22nd November 2018

Google slapped with $21.1 million fine by India

Joe West
by on 9th February 2018

The Competition Commission of India has found that Google has ‘abused its dominant position in online general web search and web search advertising services in India.’ You can read the Commission’s full press release here.

The finding relates in particular to the manner Google displays flight information in its search engine results pages (SERPs).

The Commission found that the Silicon Valley based organisation, through the design of its search engine results pages, afforded extra prominence to its own internal flight ad units.

The design, which is exclusively under Google’s control, was found to be to the disadvantage of competitors trying to access the market. It was also found that Google linked to its internal and specialised Google Flights search results page within the ad unit.

This link was deemed to be an ‘unfair imposition’ on users of general search services.

Owed to these practices, the Commission issued a $21.1 million fine, which is about 0.019% of Alphabet’s annual revenue for 2017 and is based purely on Google’s revenues from India.

The Commission cleared Google of other competition violations relating to OneBoxes, AdWords, distribution agreements and online intermediation.

This latest fine follows a $2.7 billion anti-trust fine slapped on Google by the European Union for privileging its own price comparison services over those of competitors.

The EU’s investigation spanned seven years and concluded in 2017 with Commissioner Margrethe Vestager stating in an official press release “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.”

The poor performance of Google’s initial price comparison platform, a service called Froogle, led increasingly to the integration of Google’s product results in prominent positions in its search engine results pages, and to the detriment of competitors.

The Commission found that not only did Google afford extra prominence to its own product comparison service (more often than not at the top of its search engine results pages), evidence held by the Commission shows that it made changes to its algorithms to demote rival price comparison services.

The Commission states that even the top-ranked price comparison services appeared, at best, on page four of the results. Google’s own comparison service was not subject to Google’s general search algorithms, and thus wasn’t demoted.

The Commission’s investigation into Google comprised 5.2 Terabytes of search results from Google, which amounts to about 1.7 billion search queries.

Despite the fine and extent of the investigation, The Times reported earlier this year that it hasn’t made a material difference to the display of products in Google’s search results. According to the Times, Google’s product results still appear for 99% of results.