BEUC’s reaction to Google’s public response to the Commission’s Statement of Objections

BEUC NEWS - 28.08.2015

BEUC, a complainant in the Google case, wants the search engine company to allow consumers to get fair and neutral search results.

Google plays a major role in consumers’ digital lives. The best way of serving those millions of people using Google is to give them the best results in a non-discriminatory manner, purely based on quality and relevance.

Google’s anti-competitive conduct of systematically favouring its own services is harmful to consumers as they are not getting the best and most relevant results to their queries. By pushing competing services out of consumers’ sight, Google is not only misleading them, it’s also reducing their choice and stifling innovation.

In our view, price comparison shopping services such as Google Shopping and online retailers such as Amazon are not interchangeable services from a consumer perspective. Consumers go to these services for different purposes and expect different things from them. Going to a shop that sells lots of products is not the same as comparing the prices of a single product from different shops.

Moreover, the importance of online search cannot be underestimated as Google seems to imply in its recent blog post. Be it from a desktop computer or from a mobile device, for the majority of consumers Google is still the main access point to the internet when looking for information, products and services. And the service that a search engine provides cannot be substituted by a social network, for example. One is designed to deliver the information you are looking for, the other to deliver information you might be interested in.

Consumers do value and find useful the overall way Google displays the results and the improvements introduced since the so-called “10 blue links”. But consumers also go to Google trusting its search results to be impartial and based solely on relevance. Ads and biased results do not benefit consumers. Therefore we find it very hard to see Google’s practices as an improvement in quality, like the company suggests.

Google should apply the principle of non-discrimination, not only to product shopping but across the board, to ensure that people have access to non-biased results no matter what they are searching for, be it a new digital camera, a hotel for their next holiday or a restaurant for dinner. And “results” does not mean “ads”. If Google really wants to deliver the best for its users, the first step is to stop deceiving them and to comply with EU competition rules.

Coming from a company that champions transparency and openness, the fact that it is not disclosing its evidence used to back up its claims nor asking for a hearing raises many questions to Google’s preparedness to confront its data with those of the complainants.