Google’s in Hot Water

Monday, 06 December 2010

google-euThe reigning giant of internet search is facing some strong allegations and an investigation from The European Commission due to supposed misuse of its dominant position. There is no doubt that Google is the lord of all things search, from those of us who work in the industry to those who fleetingly visit the web, Google is a staple.

At first it seems Google has been accused of offering preferential treatment to some services whilst shutting out others within its organic results. Also, it has been accused of targeting price comparison sites, and lowering their rankings in order to make its own services more apparent. The accusations come from three companies; Foundem, a British price comparison site, Ciao, which is coincidentally owned by Microsoft and French legal search engine

On closer inspection, it seems that what Foundem are complaining about is Google’s universal search. Because of Google’s inclusion of shopping results, news reports, reviews, videos, pictures and other media-specific search results, previously high-ranking sites are being pushed further down the page. Obviously Google’s argument is that the results still rank high within the organic search, it’s just the organic search is further down the page.

If The European Commission believes that Google has been unfair then the search giant could face a hefty fine of 10% last year’s profits, a cool £1.54bn.

The European Commission was quick to point out that an investigation does not mean they have any proof of wrong-doing, merely that they are exploring the issue. Not surprisingly Google has denied any allegations but stated that ‘there is always going to be room for improvement’ and offered to help the Commission in any way it could.

When the allegations first arose Don Harrison, Google’s Deputy General Counsel wrote ‘we built Google to provide the most useful, relevant search results and ads for the user. Given that not every website can appear at the top of the results, or even appear on the first page of our results, it’s unsurprising that some less relevant, lower-quality websites will be unhappy with their rankings’.

We don’t think this case is going to go very far, Google is a business at the end of the day – a pretty big business. Although it hasn’t officially altered any site’s rankings, it has pushed them further down the page after making the decision to include a universal search result. The inclusion of a universal search has obviously helped keep Google at the top of the search engine battle, but it seems smaller businesses will suffer. But then, Google didn’t get 90% of the market share by playing nice.