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Google accused of failing to comply with EU shopping ruling by rivals


Online shopping

Google has had to rejig how it displays online shopping services.


TODOR TSVETKOV / Getty Images

Shopping comparison sites accused Google in an open letter on Friday of failing to comply with a major EU ruling about how the internet giant displays shopping services.

Last year, Europe’s regulator slapped Google with a 2.42 billion euro ($2.72 billion) fine for favoring its own shopping services in its search results over those of rivals following a years-long antitrust investigation. Over a year on, 14 shopping services are saying that Google’s new method for listing shopping services in search results has still not resulted in a level playing field across the industry.

The commission’s decision is the result of one of three antitrust investigations into Google. The EU issued a second fine of $5 billion over Android this year, and is expected to make a decision over AdSense, Google’s ad-serving platform, in the near future. 

Google is a target for the Competition Commission because of its dominant position in the market, both as the most popular search engine and as the brains behind Android, the world’s biggest mobile operating system. Dominance isn’t a problem in and of itself, but regulators are keen to make sure it’s not abused by big companies in order to stifle competition, which could leave consumers with less choice. The hope behind the commission’s Google shopping decision was that shoppers across Europe would ultimately have the greatest chance of discovering the retail deals that are best for them, whether or not they’re being promoted by Google’s own services.

In a letter addressed to Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, Google’s rivals claimed that the auction-based system for deciding where shopping services are displayed has done nothing to remedy the problem. “The harm to competition, consumers and innovation caused by Google’s illegal conduct has continued unabated,” they said, urging the commission to begin noncompliance proceedings against the company.

A spokesman for the European Competition Commission confirmed it had received the letter and was “carefully looking at it.”

The commission’s decision requires Google to put measures in place to remedy what its investigation concluded were the company’s illegal activities. To do this it must find a way to give equal treatment to rival shopping services, alongside its own service. “There is more than one way to do this,” said the commission spokesman. “It is Google’s sole responsibility to change its conduct in order to comply with this obligation.”

A spokesman for Google argued that the company had complied with commission’s order. 

“We allow all comparison shopping services to compete equally to show product ads from merchants on Google’s Search results page,” the spokesman said. “To help drive awareness amongst merchants who are unfamiliar with these new opportunities, we’re currently offering incentives for them to work with comparison shopping services. 

“One year on, both services that existed before the remedy and services that are new to comparison shopping are participating successfully,” he said.

The commission said it’s actively monitoring the situation and is in close communication with those most directly affected. “We have not yet taken a position on whether Google has complied with our decision,” the commission spokesman said. “And since we haven’t done so, this obviously remains an open question.”

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