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Google: Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am – stuck in the middle of EU

Euro probe row: People love our adverts, ad giant yells

By Jennifer Baker, 27 Aug 2015

The European Commission’s antitrust case against Google is wrong “as a matter of fact, law, and economics,” so says, er, Google.

On Thursday, the California monster publicly responded to the charges put to it by the Commish in April, namely that Google’s web search results unfairly promote its own online shopping services over rival stores. It’s things like this:

Searching for Asics running shoes on Google will display its ads right at the top of the results page for the sports gear, effectively making Google an Amazon-lite.

Google has taken its sweet time in preparing a response to the claims that it is abusing its position of power: it managed to swing two deadline extensions, the second of which was due to run out on Monday.

The central thrust of the advertising giant’s argument, presented in a blog post by legal counsel Kent Walker, is that Google is not dominant in the online shopping market. He said that the Commission had failed to “consider the impact of major shopping services like Amazon and eBay, who are the largest players in this space.” He also said that “users on desktop and mobile devices often want to go straight to trusted merchants who have established an online presence.”

The formal Statement of Objections, which Competition Chief Margrethe Vestager sent to Google after five years of to-ing and fro-ing, claimed Google’s displays of paid ads placed by individual merchants unfairly “diverted” traffic away from online supermarkets and bazaars.

But Google says, far from diverting traffic away from other aggregators, it has delivered more than 20 billion free clicks to aggregators in the EU over the last decade.

“Our central point is our consistent commitment to quality,” said Walker. “In providing results for people interested in shopping, we knew we needed to go beyond the old-fashioned '10 blue links' model.

"We show ads to the right and at the top of organic results and we use specialised algorithms to maximize their relevance for users. Data from users and advertisers confirms they like these formats. That’s not 'favouring' – that’s giving our customers and advertisers what they find most useful.”

To further hammer home its point, Google has made a slick video explaining why it does more than provide links to websites – it tries to pull in maps, images, dictionary definitions, translations, and so on, and bungs them at the top of the search results when people look for things.

Youtube Video

And while we can appreciate that Google’s super-smart-over-9000-IQ engineers and their fans think this technology is whizzbang great, Google still doesn’t seem to get that, in Europe, this overloading of search results has the potential to push competing sites out of the way. Watching a US giant with a dominant position closing the door on smaller rivals makes Europeans nervous – a fact that hasn't changed in years. ®

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