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Commission condemns Google for search manipulation practices violating EU competition law

Statement by Thomas Vinje, Spokesman and Legal Counsel to FairSearch
Partner & Chairman of Clifford Chance’s Global Antitrust Practice

Commission condemns Google for search manipulation practices violating EU competition law

Brussels, 27 June 2017 – Today, the European Commission took action to prohibit Google’s illegal search manipulation practices and to restore competition on the merits to Google’s search results for a key online sector, comparison shopping – a service that allows users to compare product features, prices, and availability from a wide selection of online retailers.

FairSearch warmly welcomes the Commission’s decision, which sets a powerful precedent that the Commission can use immediately to restore competition on the merits to other specialised online search services such as those for travel, local and maps.  European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is proving she means business by pursuing the matter vigorously in the face of nearly seven years of foot-dragging by Google. This landmark decision demonstrates the decisive role that competition policy can play in addressing conduct by online platforms, and we are confident the European Commission will prevail on the law and the facts in any appeal Google may file.

For over a decade Google has abused and leveraged its monopoly power in search – where it has a 95% market share in Europe — to both undermine rival comparison shopping sites and to preference its own online shopping business. The Commission’s decision will finally put a stop to that abusive conduct, and it will enable those competitors that have survived despite Google’s behaviour, as well as new entrants, to compete on the merits and offer results that serve European consumers and not just Google.

Google search results are not designed to deliver the most relevant results (and best prices) to consumers, but rather to make the most money for Google. Consumers have therefore faced reduced choice of goods and services and ultimately paid higher prices than they would have done had Google provided objective results and not those that line its own pockets.  This decision will mean that consumers receive comparison shopping results that offer genuinely the best purchasing options.

Google’s abuse of its dominance continues in other areas which must be addressed by the Commission.   FairSearch urges the Commission to issue a decision in relation to its investigation of Google’s practices regarding its dominant Android mobile operating system – an investigation triggered by a complaint submitted by Fairsearch in 2013.  Without swift and forceful action in relation to Android, Google will continue to restrict competition in software running on mobile devices, the primary means through which consumers access the Web.

Finally, FairSearch rejects any suggestion that this decision is motivated by anti-American sentiment.  The European Commission pursues US tech companies because they are the ones who dominate their industry.  In industries where European companies dominate – for example energy, transportation and often financial services – the Commission pursues them, not American companies.  The determining factors are dominance and abusive conduct, not nationality.  Look at the cases — the facts speak for themselves.

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