Google’s European Antitrust Settlement Proposal Insufficient, Consumer Watchdog Says As Group Releases Google’s Latest Offer and Questions From European Commission

Wed, Nov 6, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    Google’s European Antitrust Settlement Proposal Insufficient, Consumer Watchdog Says As Group Releases Google’s Latest Offer and Questions From European Commission

    SANTA MONICA, CA – Google’s latest proposal to settle a European antitrust investigation does nothing to solve the underlying problem of how the Internet giant manipulates results and favors its own services in search, Consumer Watchdog said today as it released the proposal and questions the European Commission is asking about it.

    Documents detailing the proposed deal were considered confidential by the European Commission. Early today Consumer Watchdog challenged Google to make them public and said it would do so if Google did not release them by the end

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    of the day. Shortly after Consumer Watchdog’s letter to Google CEO Larry Page was made public, The Financial Times in London made the documents available on its website.

    Consumer Watchdog said there was no point in waiting for Google to possibly act, once the FT had published the proposed deal’s details.

    Read the proposed 94-page settlement here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/googlesettlment102113.pdf

    Read the questions from the Commission here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/euquestions102113.pdf

    Consumer Watchdog also called on European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia to release any test data that had been submitted by Google to support the latest proposal.

    “Consumer welfare is the ultimate test of any antitrust settlement. Google’s latest proposed Commitments fail to meet this standard,” said John M. Simpson, director of the U.S.- based public interest group’s Privacy Project. “Labeling does nothing but obscure the results of Google’s anticompetitive abuses. It does not resolve the fundamental issue of search manipulation.”

    The deal offers to provide links to competing services, but would charge rivals to be included in the listings. There would also be a button so a user could hide the rival links.

    “The proposal just gives Google another way to make money,” Simpson said. “Google needs to use an objective, non-discriminatory mechanism to rank and display all search results, including any links to Google products. Search neutrality is the key.”

    Consumer Watchdog said there are “fundamental flaws” in Google’s proposed Commitments and noted the proposed remedy is based on two principles. First is labeling – Google must identify its own results that it is favoring. Second is the idea of presenting links to rival services.

    “Neither of these proposed solutions gets to the heart of the problem. They will not restore a competitive search marketplace that will serve the interests of consumers. Google’s conduct has severely damaged competition, leaving consumers with less choice and facing higher prices,” said Simpson. “The Commission must insist on remedies that as much as possible restore the market position of Google’s rivals – one possibility could be requiring the preferencing for some period of time of the search result listings of rivals over Google Shopping or Google Places.”

    Consumer Watchdog’s letter to CEO Page

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    challenged him “to hold your company to the same standards of behavior as you unilaterally impose on everyone else.”

    Read the letter here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrpage110513.pdf

    “Google claims its ‘mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’ You do an amazing job of this — including making public much of what people would prefer be kept private — except when the information is about Google,” wrote Simpson.

    The most recent example of this hypocritical approach to privacy is Google’s proposed settlement to end the European Commission’s antitrust investigation of the Internet giant, Consumer Watchdog said. Last April, a settlement proposal was offered, published publicly and market tested. It was found deficient. Since then

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    Google has made a new offer that supposedly remedies the failures in the first. Consumer Watchdog commented on the original proposal and therefore received a copy of the latest offer and was asked its opinion of the proposal.

    “We were asked not to share the documents outside our organization,” Simpson said. “However, Consumer Watchdog is convinced that for the public interest to be served in this landmark case, the proposal must be open for full scrutiny by all. Reaching an antitrust settlement largely under the cloak of confidentiality undercuts the public’s trust in the entire process. That serves neither the interests of Google nor the Commission. If justice is to be done, it must be seen to be done.”

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    Visit Consumer Watchdog’s website at www.consumerwatchdog.org

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    This post was written by:

    John M. Simpson

    - who has written 414 posts on Inside Google.


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