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German Publishers Say ‘Fundamental’ Changes Needed to Google’s First Proposal

A study released by BDZV and VDZ, German publishers’ associations, found evidence that Google’s initial settlement offer to the European Commission will do nothing to restore competition in the online marketplace, but may in fact only serve to further promote Google’s own services.  For more on the study, click here.

Thomas Höppner, legal counsel to BDZV and VDZ, called Google’s proposals for labeling some of Google’s own services and linking to three rival sites “entirely ineffective”:

The study provides hard and independent evidence for the apparent: if Google places its links above all others and highlights them with informative images while hiding rivals as small, ambiguous links, users will click on Google’s own products, even if they are objectively less relevant.”

The associations voiced concerns that if Google’s labeling proposal were implemented, Google would dominate almost all vertical search markets and its own properties would receive more than half of all clicks on the search results page. The study echoes FairSearch previous study, released in July, that found similar results.

The study presented consumers in Italy, Spain, France and Germany with mock-up search results pages that match the layout proposed by Google in its first offer to settle the EU investigation. Among the key findings in the research:

  • Even if separated from organic search results and labeled as “sponsored,” users overwhelmingly click on Google’s vertical search results.
  • Less than 5% clicked on any Rival Link. In one example, out of 4000 clicks related to a search for a DSLR camera, only 65 clicks went to a rival link.
  • Of 20,000 searches, only 15 clicks went to the “info” icon supposed to inform users of the preferential treatment of Google’s own services.

Recently, Joaquin Almunia, the top EU official in charge of competition policy, said in a speech that “It is my responsibility to ensure that Google does not abuse this gatekeeper role in the EU to push its own services against those of competitors who may be just as innovative.”

Almunia will have the opportunity to do so while reviewing the revised settlement offer Google submitted to him in September. Details have not been made public. Almunia rejected Google’s first offer after it was widely criticized during a market test that gathered feedback from business and consumer groups on its effects.

The German publishers called on the European Commission “to issue a statement of objections immediately if the new commitments do not contain any fundamental improvements. In the event that the Commission considers the new proposals to be fundamental enough to merit a detailed examination, the BDZV/VDZ would expect a second formal market test to provide third parties with the opportunity to deliver their expert analysis.”