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Is Google rigging search results? CCI thinks so

A conference room featuring a Google doodle

A conference room featuring a Google doodle

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has officially charged Google India for misusing its dominant position by rigging search outcomes in favour of its own products and services, The Economic Times said in a news report on Monday.

CCI’s director-general filed a report on these lines last week after studying responses submitted by Bharat Matrimony, Flipkart, MakeMyTrip and several other online businesses, the newspaper said, quoting the report.

Google, which recently named India-origin executive Sundar Pichai as CEO, will have to file its response to the findings by September 10. A week later, the search giant will have to present itself before the CCI’s seven-member commission headed by chairman Ashok Chawla. If found guilty of violating anti-trust laws, CCI could impose a fine of up to 10 per cent of Google’s annual revenue.

“We’re currently reviewing this report from the CCI’s ongoing investigation. We continue to work closely with the CCI and remain confident that we comply fully with India’s competition laws,” a Google spokesperson said in response to a Techcircle.in query.

“Regulators and courts around the world, including in the US, Germany, Taiwan, Egypt and Brazil, have looked into and found no concerns on many of the issues raised in this report,” the spokesperson added.

Emails sent to Bharat Matrimony, Flipkart and MakeMyTrip did not get a response till the time of writing this report.

The Indian competition commission authorities believe that Google is pushing its proprietary content by superseding relevance of an individual’s search keywords. For example, even though Moneycontrol.com may have a higher hit rate for a stock market search in India, Google Finance links are given priority. Similarly, Google Hotels gets preference over other travel portals who command higher traffic, the newspaper report pointed out.

The second moot point is that sponsored links that throw up after a Google search are proportional to the advertising amount paid to Google. It sometimes supersedes the link of the actual trademarks being searched.

The first complaint in this regard was filed by Matrimony.com Pvt Ltd (earlier Consim Info Pvt Ltd), which owns a string of matrimony-related consumer internet properties such as BharatMatrimony.com, EliteMatrimony.com and others, back in 2012. In its submission to CCI, the company had termed Google’s trade practices related to the AdWords programme as ‘discriminatory’.

In March 2014, CCI had fined Google for non-compliance with disclosures in investigations following Bharat Matrimony’s complaint.

Google is also facing regulatory heat in Europe. The EU has alleged that Google is illegally abusing its market dominance through anti-competitive practices that favour its own Google Shopping over other e-commerce aggregator websites. In a blog post last week, Kent Walker, senior vice president and general counsel at Google, said that these allegations were ‘wrong’ and ‘unfounded’. The case is Europe’s biggest antitrust action against a US-headquartered technology company.

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