back to article Google's paid link settlement plan will lead to fresh wave of abuses, claims Euro rival

England football managers, who have dynamite news to expose, sometimes wait until late on a Friday afternoon to release juicy details to the press before speeding away from any supposed scandal in their 4x4s. Google attempted a similar PR stunt late last week when it surprised complainants in the European Commission's lengthy …

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  1. hplasm Silver badge
    Meh

    "UK-based price comparison site Foundem"

    Who?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "UK-based price comparison site Foundem"

      Come on! If you haven't heard of it, it must be because Google considered them a dangerous competitor and killed their ranking in search results.

      It's certainly not because it is an uninteresting web site nobody would want to click on...

    2. Frood42
      Joke

      Re: "UK-based price comparison site Foundem"

      Let me Google that for you:

      https://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=foundem&meta=

  2. Warm Braw Silver badge

    "Admittance of wrongdoing"

    Apart from the fact that "admittance" is the wrong word (I doubt you mean the reciprocal of impedance), you've missed an opportunity - Google's "ad mission" is the basis of its business...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Idiots

    That F'em site is a bunch of whiny kids who have been lucky enough to be backed by Microsoft to run a campaign against Google in the UK (it's the only way they're still around as their site and business are terrible). They were based on using SEO tricks to get people to click through to their site to make money off them with no actual product. When the Google algorithm changed to drop down meta-search engines they dropped out, much to the joy of all users.

    They seem to moan, but they haven't yet said once why they feel that Google ("their rival") should be forced to give them unlimited free advertising?

    Nobody else is allowed to jump up the search rankings for free so why should they? If they did allow them couldn't I claim it was anti-competitive that they are given a free advert at the top of the page and I have to pay for an adword campaign to get similar?

    If their business model works their site should bring in more revenue than the cost of the advert (same for any advertiser) if it doesn't then they need to realise their 'product' is no good.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Idiots

      "They seem to moan, but they haven't yet said once why they feel that Google ("their rival") should be forced to give them unlimited free advertising?

      Nobody else is allowed to jump up the search rankings for free so why should they? If they did allow them couldn't I claim it was anti-competitive that they are given a free advert at the top of the page and I have to pay for an adword campaign to get similar?"

      But that's the point, isn't it? Google shopping is shite. So why is it at the top of rankings when other shopping sites are better? Could it be that Google is artificially inflating the ranking of its own services to the deteriment of other, better, services, and the consumer as well? Because that's pretty much the definition of abuse of monopoly powers, to use your monopoly power in one sector to attack rivals in another area.

      1. wowfood

        Re: Idiots

        Google shopping might be shite, but foundem is far worse.

        Search for item on foundem and I'm given about 5 items all at, lets say... £10 + shipping. Search the same thing on google and I'm finding hundreds of pages of items (okay so only the first 3 pages are relevant) priced at £8.99 with free shipping.

        Not only that, google shopping has saved me a fair bit of cash over the years. Are there other price comparison sites? Yes, and I've used them, and on occasion they work out cheaper than google for specific things, but 9/10 google gives me the same, or better deals.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Idiots

      Foundem may or may not be crap. That's down to the market to determine.

      The point at issue here is that there are several markets in play here. And that Google may be able to use its dominance of one (vanilla search) to control others, mapping, local search, price-comparison, specialist search, etc.

      We know from earlier cases that although Google used to say that their search engine was purely automatic (that it was a set of algorithms and nothing else), that this isn't quite true. That Google can and do make manual adjustments. Obviously they also use user-feedback now, so the better sites should get more clicks, and slowly move to the top of the list. So to take the example of Google shopping, how do we know that Google don't have a sneaky little bit in the code somewhere that says, if the customer searches for price comparison on something, make sure the Google shopping comes out top? Even though Googles shopping thingymajig has been rubbish for years, from back when they brilliantly called it Froogle onwards.

      So if you decide that price comparison is a different market to general search, then Google aren't legally allowed to use their monopoly in search to advantage their product in price comparison. That's what anti-trust/anti-monopoly laws are for. And is why Microsoft are about €1 billion poorer (and the Commission up by the same), even though Internet Explorer was free.

      This is really important in an area where network effects are so important. The more people who use mapping software (with GPS and traffic jam tracking), the better it gets. Not that I'm saying Google maps isn't good, but it may be that by pushing people to it, Google gained an unfair advantage. I don't believe that, I think it was by investing large amounts of time, doing a good job, and creating a smartphone OS and giving it away free.

      But Google's shopping service is unloved, uncared for and rubbish. Or at least it was last time I looked at it. And yet it also appears at the top of searches.

      You might spend a lot of time and money creating a specialist hotel search site. Only for Google to come along and destroy your market, by denying your traffic. The problem here is that it's very hard for legislation to tell who's an SEO-abusing, link-farming parasite, and who's a brilliant company getting screwed. But the law has to do something to protect the market from Google dominance. So a balance has to be struck. Which is very hard if there are 5,000 hotel search sites - as it would be a bit unfair to force Google to put theirs on page 17 of the results. Equally it's an abuse of market dominance for them to put theirs top.

      Google do have a point on relevance though. If I search for a particular local restaurant, I don't want to be redirected to a local resto search site that doesn't have a listing for the place I searched for. On the other hand, there might be a local resto search site specific to the city I'm in, that doesn't currently have the resto I'm looking for, but would be highly relevant to me if it were good. So I'd want the perfect search engine to flag that up for me anyway. So there's no right answer here, whatever the EC (or Google) do.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Idiots

        If you search for Canon Digital Camera on Google you get a box marked "sponsored" with links through to advertisers that may sell the product you are after.

        This is very similar to the adwords box and you can appear in that box in a similar way to adwords. That's what Google Shopping is when listed on it's search engine.

        If this is an abuse then Google should also be made to allow any advertising agency to show adverts on their site whenever you do a search. Adwords adverts are just laid out slightly differently to these products adverts (I guess as they show a photo of the product).

        So Google are now agreeing to a third party advertising system to be shown in their results but the advertisers (as these "rivals" are just that other advertising networks) should be allowed to display their advert network for free on Google's site.

        Believe it or not Google's business is not as a free search provider but they are an advertising agency and the critical claim from rivals is that they should be allowed to make Google allow their advertising network to be shown for free (and paid for by Google).

        <analogy>

        Imagine if you were the only art gallery in town and showed free exhibitions which attracted people from all over. In the museum you had a cafe that paid for the running of the museum. As you are a monopoly in that town for art exhibitions (or even tourist attractions) other cafes complained that you should send some of the customers who wanted to eat at your place to them for free as they weren't as good as your cafe or have a decent art gallery attached. Wouldn't make sense - especially if the other cafes had or tried, in the past, to have art galleries but they just weren't very good and not many people visited them.

        </analogy>

        Also if Google are going to make their knowledge engine to provide instant answers they are surely going to select the best tools for the job, and in most cases it will be tools that they can control so they can make the APIs conform to their search. If you search for how to get from "A to B" Google can provide a full turn by turn navigation and any new commands like "how long will it take to get to B" can be catered for. Otherwise they would have to go to market and ask many different providers to provide access to their systems for free, and not change them. You would then be faced with saying:

        "OK Google, how do I get to the Statue of Liberty" ...

        "Thank you for your request, please choose from one of the following providers, mymap, yourmap, thismap, statemap" ...

        "mymap" ....

        "Oops sorry the api for directions does not appear to be available, please choose again"

        On a final note - search Google for "photo sharing site" and Picasa will end up on page 4. Search for "shop comparison site" and Google Shopping won't appear.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Idiots

          This is partly a market failure. The problem here is 'free' stuff. Lots of stuff on the internet is 'free', because it's being paid for in a different way. Often by advertising. This leads to market distortions - and can cause problems with innovation. It's hard to charge for a service when others give it away for free, cross-subsidised by another part of their business.

          Google have an massive monopoly in search, and a lesser monopoly in advertising. Which then makes it hard to decide what the market is, who the competitors are, and how to balance harm to the operation of the market against the benefit to the consumer of getting free stuff. For example Google have used an advertising monopoly in order to out-compete other software companies on selling a phone OS. They've then cleverly leveraged that to make themselves an income in selling books and music, taking a cut of app sales, continuing to improve their mapping service, building an international WiFi location database, improving local search, getting traffic info etc...

          What someone has to be watching is that they're not abusing their dominance in one market, to screw over competitors in another. For example the search monopoly gives them a dangerous amount of control of the internet.

          So in an ideal world the Competition Commissioner is keeping a beady eye on them. Keeping them a bit nervous and careful. Trying to come to rulings quickly, so the competition aren't dead before the remedy happens (MS lost €1bn, but that did little good to Netscape). And hopefully not screwing up, like Sky and the football rights. Where the EC did something to 'protect competition', which meant that the customer ended up having to shell out £10 a month extra, in order to receive a service they'd already been getting - but now from 2 different suppliers.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But the move has stirred up criticism among high-ranking EC officials

    .. on the Microsoft payroll....

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: But the move has stirred up criticism among high-ranking EC officials

      Given the kicking that the EU recently handed Microsoft, that's a rather unlikely conspiracy theory you've got there.

      The charitable interpretation here is that Almunia wants the deal done before the commission gets replaced in a few months. Hence he's in a hurry. I don't really know why, as a settlement in a pretty technical area with Google hardly strikes me as a great legacy. But who knows...

      1. ratfox Silver badge

        Re: But the move has stirred up criticism among high-ranking EC officials

        It's a better legacy than working four years on a solution you touted as better and more efficient than litigation, just to end up saying "Sorry, we do need ten years of litigation in the end; I have wasted four years without anything to show up for it."

  5. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Holmes

    Care-o-meter: LOW <-[]----------------> HIGH

    "But the move has stirred up criticism among high-ranking EC officials, who question the planned soft treatment of a multinational that commands up to 90 per cent of the search market in Europe."

    This is a problem how and why does it need to be "solved"?

    The solution would be for some Euroweasel to come up with a good competitor. NOPE! CAN'T DO! That would be real work!

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      Re: This is a problem how and why does it need to be "solved"?

      It's a problem because Google are also competing with other services and push their services over competitors in their search results.

      It's kind of like when Mshipped IE with windows. Surely someone could have just made a better browser and it'd be successful? (Well, I guess it would be if you stuck it as a "improve your internet" link on the top of 90% of all search results....)

      So, was the EU was wrong to hassle MS about IE? Or is it just Google that are sacrosanct?

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Care-o-meter: LOW <-[]----------------> HIGH

      Destroy all Monsters,

      Google have a monopoly in search. That gives them massive power. Which they can very easily abuse. Which means that competitors might get strangled at birth, denying us shiny services that might make society better.

      Therefore, Google have to be watched. Which is the job of the EC Competition Commissioner. They may decide that vertical search and general search are so similar that they're really the same market. In which case Google have the search monopoly from being just plain better. In which case, nothing to see here, hooray for Google, carry on chaps.

      However they may decide that specialist search engines are useful, and are a separate market. In which case, hold up Google - you're abusing your monopoly power. Stop it, or get fined to buggery.

      It's technical, difficult and messy. There's probably no perfect answer. But it's bloody important that the question gets asked!

      1. M Gale

        Re: Care-o-meter: LOW <-[]----------------> HIGH

        Watched, perhaps.

        Done anything about, especially when the only people complaining are "vertical search" linkfarms sponsored by Microsoft of all corporations? Perhaps not. Especially considering you can change search engines probably more easily than you can change your socks, with less impact on the rest of the Internet than, oh, changing operating systems has on your software collection.

        Really, when Google demoted all of these shysters a couple of years ago, people were cheering the chocolate factory on. What's changed in the last couple of years?

        1. RyokuMas Silver badge

          Re: Care-o-meter: LOW <-[]----------------> HIGH

          "What's changed in the last couple of years?" - people have become more aware of how Google are abusing their ability to gather and profile data. I for one certainly do not want my emails read through, scanned, profiled and used to force advertising onto me/sold to the highest bidder/passed over to the NSA...

          The problem is that Google have gotten too damn big and powerful. Everyone complained that Microsoft forced IE on people a few years back - Google have effectively forced themselves on everyone by the creation of a puppet industry (SEO) which dictates what tracking and markup should be used on swathes of high-profile websites: if you don't have this, you don't get on the search ranking, so you lose business. So until suitable competition can gain traction in the search market, it can be surmised that Google effectively own the internet (or most the useful bits at least). This is far more dangerous than any forcing of browser choice - I can't choose to block sites that use Google analytics, for example. I'm amazed that anyone is still cheering them on.

          1. M Gale

            Re: Care-o-meter: LOW <-[]----------------> HIGH

            people have become more aware of how Google are abusing their ability to gather and profile data. I for one certainly do not want my emails read through, scanned, profiled and used to force advertising onto me/sold to the highest bidder/passed over to the NSA...

            Google have been putting targetted adverts into Gmail for a lot longer than the past couple of years. Whatever your opinion of it, this has precious little to do with whether they have a search engine monopoly, whether they are abusing it, and whether anything should be done about it. They also don't pass your information on to advertisers. As someone who has set up Adwords campaigns, I have to say I have not been fed anybody's email data yet.

            So until suitable competition can gain traction in the search market...

            Bing, Yahoo, Duckduckgo, plenty out there. You want to set up your own web spider and database? Google cannot stop you.

            it can be surmised that Google effectively own the internet (or most the useful bits at least).

            Really, no. You can firewall the entire Google IP range, and the rest of the Internet just carries on working.

            I can't choose to block sites that use Google analytics, for example.

            Yes you can. Most sites that use Analytics will continue to work when you script-block the crap out of Ganalytics. The rest are just shitty sites.

            I'm amazed that anyone is still cheering them on.

            Not so much cheering them on, as much as countering some of the Microsoft-sponsored bullshit being spread around. Privacy arguments may or may not be valid, but this has nothing at all to do with their dominance in search. The privacy arguments should also be aimed at Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and any other business. Your data is worth money, and businesses are after money. It really is that simple.

            1. RyokuMas Silver badge

              Re: Care-o-meter: LOW <-[]----------------> HIGH

              Not so much cheering them on, as much as countering some of the Microsoft-sponsored bullshit being spread around

              Ah, but who's countering the counter-bullshit? I understand that Microsoft have done some pretty crappy things in past, but that only makes me more cautious towards Google. I'd be the first to agree that all the big IT players need watching - but right now, there's a bit too much pro-Google going on on here these days, and given practices like astroturfing, I'm all the more sceptical.

        2. smackbean

          Re: Care-o-meter: LOW <-[]----------------> HIGH

          Only people complaining?

          I doubt that. As an example, a couple of years ago now, but I'm sure it still goes on, I had a domain listed in the top 5 for a particular search - it was there for years.

          There were absolutely no dubious SEO practices going on with the website (you'll just have to take my word for it).

          Suddenly the site dropped completely out the rankings and stayed that way for four months. Repeated attempts to contact Google were met with blind indifference.

          Can you imagine launching a UK website and that happening during your first week? Goodbye business.

          1. M Gale

            Re: Care-o-meter: LOW <-[]----------------> HIGH

            Can you imagine launching a UK website and that happening during your first week? Goodbye business.

            Honestly, relying on natural search rankings during your first week is not a good strategy. That's what Adwords are there for. They cost less than you think. I remember about £20/week and some intelligently-chosen keywords resulting in hundreds of thousands of ad views across Google affiliates within a few days. Quite a few conversions, too.

            Once you're established, people are talking about you in forums and your natural ranking starts getting bumped up, then you can drop the Adwords campaigns.

            Now I'm not sure what happened for you to have your Google ranking dropped. You haven't mentioned which domain you're talking about, and I guess that Reg moderators might /dev/null the post if you did. However, I think you have to accept that with any search engine, you are going to go up and down the rankings based on quite a number of criteria. So long as those criteria aren't "we just don't like you" or "we're about to launch a competing service", there really isn't anything that any monopolies commission should be getting involved with.

            Also, first post eh? Hi.

            1. smackbean

              Re: Care-o-meter: LOW <-[]----------------> HIGH

              I think the point being that Google have the power to make or break an online business in the UK and there is no comeback should you be penalised unjustly by them. It only takes one bad month to put someone out of business. This is not a healthy position for UK online businesses.

              In my case the site was penalised by Google and booted out the rankings entirely. We had a forum which linked to the site which was not functioning but users could register (the forum was only linked back to the original site). Each registration seemed to produce a Google indexed page which had a link back to the original website. I think after a period of the number of these 'registrations' led to the Google bot deciding this was some type of link farm.

              Of course I don't know, I guessing, because they refused to enter in to a dialogue about it. I have no problem with genuine ranking movements. The problem as far as Google is concerned we just have to trust them. And I don't.

  6. Tieger

    such a waste of time

    does noone remember how happy we all were when google started filtering out their 'competitors' results? if i search for something on google, why should my first page of hits be of similar searches on shittier websites?

    if i search for 'map' on google, then oddly enough i expect for their recommendation to be a link to googlemaps! weird huh.

    same as if i walk into PCWorld, and say 'my PCs got a problem, where can i find help?' i expect to be pointed at the tech support helpdesk thingy there, not to some local little shop half a mile away.

    if i wanted to, i would use different search engines. its not hard to use bing instead (hm, if i type 'map' into bing, the first link is to googlemaps... wonder if its because thats the most popular choice?).

    if there was a genuine complaint here, then fair enough. but theres not - theres a bunch of shysters complaining about not being able to get rich off google's hard work, and being sponsored to do so by microsoft.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: such a waste of time

      Regardless of why Bing shows Google Maps top, I have to say it is a pretty good indication of the general honesty of Bing's search results.

      1. Tieger

        Re: such a waste of time

        maybe so, i agree.

        in which case, why shouldnt google be allowed to list it as top as well, without getting shouted at for it?

  7. Bladeforce

    Foundem = Funded by Microsoft

    http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2098919/Report-Google-EU-Antitrust-Expands-Up-to-9-Complainants

    Any surprise here that Microsoft are using a proxy?

    Come on people rid ourselves of the Microsoft evil

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Foundem = Funded by Microsoft

      You are *so* out of date. The tech world has moved on and villains have switched. Microsoft no longer has the reach (outside of enterprise) to be the one to be concerned about.

  8. atharh
    Trollface

    'The UK's "Top" Price Comparison Site: The Gadget Show, December 2008' - That pretty much says it all.

    On another note, maybe they could lead by example and provide 3 free links on their site to other search engines.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Alan Denman

    Highly ranked officals - by Microsoft

    Yes,

    likely the very same ones who allowed Microsoft to monopoly bundle Windows with almost every PC that came into existence.

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