Google "respectfully disagrees" with €2.42 billion fine


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/06/27/google-respectfully-disagree.html


#2

I don’t even know what “Google’s comparison shopping service” is. Is it deployed in the USA? Has anyone on this forum ever used it?


#3

https://www.google.com/shopping

I’ve used it a few times before just to realize that Amazon usually has a lower price than the random retailers that appear in the Google shopping results, unless the item is really obscure.


#4

I don’t get this at all. It’s a little absurd. When I use a company’s service I would never expect them to be impartial. I would expect for them to promote their own products first and often.

If this is a crime shouldn’t most search providers start lawyering up?


#5

[quote=“henry_minsky, post:2, topic:103654”]
Has anyone on this forum ever used it?[/quote]
Used to be called Froogle. It was useful in the old days, as it leveraged the search engine’s power and could find you bargains in stores you might not have known existed, but then around 5 years ago (after putting the competition out of business) it changed to a pay-to-play service which means it is dominated by the likes of Amazon.

Last night I watched the DW coverage of the commissioner make the full announcement, and I was a little surprised at the emphasis on google shopping, but on reflection they really did do damage here, indirectly driving more business into the hands of the big fish.


#6

The issue here is Google’s market dominance. They’re basically a monopoly and that is bad for consumers.

“Google has come up with many innovative products and services that have made a difference to our lives. That’s a good thing,” Vestager told reporters, as she announced the fine, the largest ever made in an antitrust case. “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.

“What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation.”

I think that is a very reasonable position. While I sadly do expect companies to try to swindle me every chance they get, I also hope that legislation tries to limit that as much as possible and here EU seems to be doing just that.


#7

If google was your isp and every search engine brought back google results at the top I could understand a ruling like this. But people have choices, there are multiple other search engines with their own algorithms. If it’s about market dominance I don’t get that at all. Hey looks like people really like what you built there. People like it so much we’re going to need you to change it.


#8

To reiterate, the issue here is that they’re using their dominant position to push out competition. Their search engine gives preference in results to their own price comparison. This is anti-competitive and bad for consumers because other products, perhaps superior comparison shopping services, are pushed out of the market.

As a somewhat archaic analogy, consider a dominant phone company that uses it’s position to promote their own services over others. It’s a generally good and innovative company and 80% of people use it. However, let’s say you are searching for a car mechanic in the phone book and the first few pages are always the phone company’s subsidiary businesses or when you call their phone number search service, they always give you their car mechanic shop as first answer. Can you see how this would harm competition and, in the end consumers?

You can read more about EU’s antitrust policy here:

http://ec.europa.eu/competition/antitrust/overview_en.html


#9

But unlike a phone company which requires deep infrastructure and ropes people into region-specific contracts - anybody can instantly use any search engine without any penalty, or even write their own.

I don’t like corporatist business strategies either, but I still struggle to understand how/why anybody refers to free internet services as monopolies when there isn’t anything stopping anyone from using others. One would never know who Gurgle’s favorite stores were unless one was already choosing to use Gurgle. Use a service unaffiliated with them, and you have taken a significant step towards solving the problem. Breaking the would-be monopoly created by you refusing to use another service.


#10

If I search on Google for “email,” I expect Gmail to show up either at or very near the top of the list. If I search on Bing for “email,” I expect Live.com to show up either at or very near the top of the list. If I search on Yahoo! for “email,” I expect Yahoo!Mail to show up either at or very near the top of the list.

If I search on Google for widgets to purchase, I expect that, if Google sells widgets or has a business partner who does, the Google associated widget will show up at or near the top of the list.

If I shop at Wal-Mart, I fully expect Wal-Mart brand items to be prominently displayed on shelves. I don’t expect the government to force them to give equal shelving space to, much less to carry at all, Target brand items.

It’s a stupid ruling that pretends that Google should ignore its ability to synergize its services.

And all of this comes from the dominance that Google has as a search engine, which is an entirely consumer-driven monopoly. Google didn’t buy out Bing or Yahoo! or DuckDuck Go or Altavista to gain dominance. It just provided a more useful service. And the first result on Google when I search for “search engines” is an article about alternatives to Google Search. They’re not pushing out competition. They don’t need to. People choose to use them!


#11

I don’t search with Google any more.


#12

You’re describing what is and I’m talking about what should be.

A search engine if fundamentally different from Wal-Mart. I would expect “the government” to prevent Wal-Mart from abusing it’s market position:

If by “ability to synergize its services” you mean “abuse dominant position”, then I think Google definitely should ignore that ability.

It’s not about their dominance as search engine but what they do with that position. Like the EU spokeswoman said: “Google has come up with many innovative products and services that have made a difference to our lives”. Unfortunately, here they also exploit that position to drive out competition in another sector. This doesn’t mean I don’t like or use their search engine.


#13

I guess what confuses me is that if the consumer wants a shopping comparison engine, they could just type “reviews for sneakers” or “shopping comparison”. What the EU seems to be saying is that if a user just types “sneakers”, Google has to list a bunch of shopping comparison web sites other than their own. It seems to me like the barrier over which the consumer has to leap is not very high in order to get the exact service they want. The EU is fining Google $ 2.7 billion for the equivalent of consumers being too lazy to get out of their lounge chair and change the channel. Or rather being too lazy to press the button on their remote to change the channel.

I didn’t even realize consumers had a basic human right of being given a list of comparison shopping sites when they type the name of a product into a search engine. I do in fact use Amazon most of the time, or if I want a review of products or stores, I do a little Googling for sites that provide that.


#14

I agree. Wal-Mart could be the only merchandiser in your town. Google isn’t the only search engine on the internet.

But what they do with that position is granted by that position, which is granted by consumers. People choose to type google.com into their address bar. If they don’t like that option, they can even type “other search engines” into the google search bar.

Do you get upset when [famous band] gets people to buy tickets to their concerts and then they ::gasp:: use that position granted to them by the ticket-buying populace to ::gasp:: play their own music and promote the sales (er, licensing) of their own digital music products and merchandise?

The EU is essentially advocating for making Google less useful to people who want to use it. They’re interfering with the relationship of a company and its customers. I’m not normally an advocate for corporations over governments, but in this scenario, it’s just ridiculous. The fact that EU countries have ordered Google to censor their global web results further exemplifies the gall of the EU.

If Google actually acts nefariously, by all means, take them down a notch. This isn’t that scenario though.

I think if the EU believes there’s a mandate for a truly “neutral” search engine (despite this not being truly possible), they should program one themselves and see if people use it. If consumers reject that search engine and continue to use Google, then it should be clear that they are democratically choosing what Google has to offer.


#15

Google used their search engine dominance to squeeze other price comparison engines out of business, then they quietly changed their model from being a price comparison engine to an advertising venue. This is one of the reasons we regulate against monopolies. The EU ruling can’t reverse time and revive independent price search engines, but maybe the punitive nature of the damages will slightly incentivize such companies away from this kind of behavior in the future.


#16

They removed the other price comparison engines from the internet? They shut off their web hosting? They forced Bing and Yahoo! to delist them also? They forced ISPs to redirect their DNS services? That’s nefarious! ::gasp::

It sound like you’re saying that a delivery company that owns a bunch of cars should be punished for out competing a company that has a single horse-drawn carriage.


#17

I think what`s missing is Google being an actual monopoly. As in, the governing bodies (EU, FCC, CRTC, etc) have done what the US did to AT&T; sue them as being a monopoly and using that position to unfairly compete; on success, determine a remedy: break up Ma Bell to restore a competative market.

Not a lawyer here. Maybe the EU has already declared Google a monopoly and this is the remedy.


#18

Well, exactly, in the sense that Google can’t be a monopoly unless it owns every ISP, controls every web browser and DNS service. Google isn’t an actual monopoly, but the EU is pretending it is because they’re trying to shoehorn in a definition from the physical goods and services markets to information services. That just doesn’t make sense. It would be like making Amazon shut down its servers at the same time at night that brick and mortar bookstores close.


#19

So I think Google’s point is that people would much rather, when they search for “sneakers,” be taken directly to a shopping comparison of sneakers than be taken to another site, where they have to enter their search again, and the results aren’t as good. Google’s algorithm is tuned to take people to the site they want to be at, which would naturally mean that taking them to a google shopping search for “sneakers” would rank higher than taking them to some crappy website that looks like it was designed in 1998 and produces crappy search results which you enter your search term in them (again).

Since that’s pretty much my experience with shopping search sites, I suspect that most of them just suck, and that’s why a well designed search algorithm ranks them down. Sour grapes from the eurocrats.


#20

Another money grab from the EU?