It seems that soon EU regulators will stand up business and consumers in the first major probe into Google’s dominant position in the online search market. It’s interesting that the fact that Google’s over 90% share of the search market hasn’t attracted regulator attention earlier. The investigation was started after continual complaints by rivals that Google placed their own services higher in the search results in an attempt to shut them out of the market. The EU commission will also explore in more detail if Google also extended their anti-competitive practices to shutting out other computer and software vendors from the AdWords platform.
The recent update to Google places will likely further compound the evidence that Google has been focused on preferential treatment of Google properties including Google Maps, YouTube, Google News or Google Images. All of which are heavily featured in the search results combined with a strongly expanding number of Google AdWords results slowly killing off any organic results leaving business no choice but to buy AdWords traffic.
The gravity of the Google EU investigation is covered in some of the many breaking headlines on the story
- EU launches antitrust probe into Google searches
- Google Working with EU to Address Antitrust Concerns
- EU launches Google investigation after complaints
- EU launches formal Google probe
- Google Investigated by EU over online ads, search
You can even watch the story interest slowly growing on Google own social media updates service shown below, it’s likely that this storm will blow up as it’s just 5:20am in Los Angeles so there is a full day of media coverage ahead. You can also expect that social graph to continue to grow as EU/UK journalists are busy writing and researching more about the potential impact of the case on Google as its currently in the middle of their business day, expect a peak in about 4-5 hours and it should grow from there.
The number #1 hot topic on Google trends is also “Google Antitrust” which provides a forewarning about the massive PR storm that is due to hit Google. To put the issue into perspective the topic is ahead of Bono’s Sydney trip, comcast netflix issue around net neutrality and wikileaks, this is the type of incident that breaks what ever “do no evil” trust Google has left in its users.
The 3 initial companies that lodged complaints with the EU commission 8 months ago was Foundem, a UK based price-comparison website, Ciao a Microsoft owned shopping website and eJustice.fr a French legal search engine. Obviously Google has maintained its point that it has done nothing wrong and has not abused its 90% market position in online search. The counter point Google claimed is that they make it easy for users and advertisers to take their data with them when they switch services but anyone who has tried to migrate away from Google Analytics or Google AdWords knows that this is not actually correct.
Google has had a number of discussions with EU regulators following its Google Streetview cars capturing more than just images, problems around privacy issues within Google Analytics and tracking and storage of users details, this looks to be Google finally caught red handed self serving.
It will be likely that investigation will heavily impact possible purchases such as ITA Software or prospective purchases such as Groupon and based on the fact there is no time limit on a EU probe, this issue could drag on for years and substantially impact on the Google share price (GOOG). It is also likely that past cases will arise again, and more companies will join the EU investigation that may just end up with Google served up multi-billion dollar lawsuit on a silver platter.