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NYT: Google Statements Conflict in EC Antitrust Investigation

The New York Times, in a blockbuster article on Monday, laid out how European regulators found “apparent inconsistencies between Google’s public and private statements regarding practices like ‘whitelisting,’ or adjusting the results of Google’s algorithms to favor certain sites in search results” as well as private declarations by Google that it has no obligation to treat competing sites fairly on the dominant search engine in the world.

Why is this important? It calls into question the credibility of Google’s public declarations on the ITA deal, as well as the company’s real plans and motivations if it is allowed to close on that acquisition.

European Commission antitrust officials who are investigating Google found the company’s response to complaints against it “defensive and naïve,” The New York Times reports. They also found Google’s response to questions about whether Google was cutting off competition to be “inadequate”:

“’Suggesting that Google is under an obligation to show search results of other search services is like suggesting that Mercedes is under an obligation to put Fiat motors in its cars,’ the company’s lawyers wrote to the commission in a confidential response on May 3, a copy of which was seen by the International Herald Tribune.”

The article also outlines FairSearch member Foundem’s complaint – which it says has been “pivotal” – “that Google’s algorithms had the effect of favoring Google’s own price comparison tool, originally called Froogle and since renamed Google Product Search.”’

This is one of the major concerns that FairSearch is raising about allowing Google to combine the dominant provider of flight search technology with its dominant provider of search – that Google will advantage its own product and shut out competitors, leaving consumers with less choices in online travel search.

There are lots more juicy bits in this lengthy article. But the clear take-away is don’t take Google at its word. Rep. John Conyers and the American Antitrust Institute recently called on the Justice Department to protect competition and transparency in online travel search. FairSearch remains convinced the best way to do that is for DOJ to challenge the proposed Google-ITA deal.