back to article EU dangles $6bn threat over Google in endless search abuse probe

Formal charges will be meted out to Google if its latest offer to tweak its search engine in Europe fails to satisfy regulators, Brussels stressed today. The American web giant is accused of abusing its dominance position in search – for example, allegedly unfairly burying its rivals way down in its web search results. The …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google lawyers are said:

    ....to be searching for an answer.

  2. Alister Silver badge

    I still don't fully understand what it is that the EC expect Google to do...

    Post search results for their competitors services higher up than their own?

    Not give a high ranking to results that are the most relevant / popular?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      but Google KNOW what the EC will do

      Prisonplanet.com Thursday, Jul 29th, 2010

      Google’s cosy relationship with the U.S. spy network has once again been thrust into the spotlight as the company is reported to have jointly invested with the CIA in an Internet monitoring project that scours Twitter accounts, blogs and websites for all sorts of information, and can also “predict the future”.

      Google Ventures, the investment arm of Google, has injected a sum of up to $10 million, as has In-Q-Tel – which handles investments for the CIA and the wider intelligence network – into a company called Recorded Future.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Post search results for their competitors services higher up than their own?...Not give a high ranking to results that are the most relevant / popular?"

      And here-in lies the crux. Google are deciding what is more relevant. You could argue that being more popular are the ones that are higher ranked by Google when searching in Google ad infinitum ad nauseam. For example, a few years ago, Google decided that faster response times from a server would positively impact your result in the rankings. Fine. However, what happens if you are a server that is situated in a poorer country, with less of an infrastructure to support a fast response time? Theorectically, you may have information that is more relevant being dropped simply because of that result. Interestingly, do Google advocate Net Neutrality?*

      It is a powerful position to be in. For any search engine. It is interesting to do comparison searches on Duckduckgo and Google. I use both, depending on what i am trying to search, but I can tell you that when searching on something more mainstream the amount of fluff and advertising you wade through on Google can be considerably more.

      I am not saying which is correct or not, but I am saying that the EC investigating Google could well be valid. It isn't like there is a "golden standard" for ranking a web search.

      On the other hand, there is a tendancy for people to consider Google the Guardian of the/Gateway to the interwebs and so seem to hold them to some higher moral standard than they would normally. Which in itself is laughable and shows up their lack of understanding of what is going on. Google are just the biggest online advertiser on the planet. Whatever else they try to diversify into, it is important to remember that.

      *which is a can of worms in itself and isn't so straightforward as both sides would want you to believe.

      1. Daggerchild Silver badge

        The truth will set you free, Google. And kill you.

        Google are not being fair. In order to be fair, all involved parties must first agree to what 'fair' means. 'Fair' would then be enshrined in the Google ranking algorithm.

        But, if you know the ranking algorithm, you can game it, which renders it useless, which means you will need to change it. But if you change what was agreed would be 'fair', you're not being fair. GOTO 10.

        So, Google are going to be either sactioned, or infested with parasites, but they do get to choose which. Isn't that fair?

      2. Mikel

        Relevance

        Google is the most popular search engine because its results are the most relevant. All else is fluff. Of course Google's competitors would like a court to demand Google results be less relevant.

        Google has said they will honor network neutrality even if it were not required.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That's what Microsoft and their cronies want, yes.

      This is all about trying to give underperforming services a artificial advantage, and a bad precedent for consumers, who deserve the best.

    4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      >I still don't fully understand what it is that the EC expect Google to do...

      Make it clear which results are being paid for, make it clear if Google has a business relationship with any of the results. make it clear if Google has removed results because of a competing business relationship.

      1. Alan Denman

        No.

        they are being asked to promote low ranking crap from many of their complainants.

        The idea being to make Google crap like the rest to ensure 'fair competition'.

        Oh, and DuckDuckGo is just a Bing powered 'shoot the Google duck' engine.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No.

          "Oh, and DuckDuckGo is just a Bing powered 'shoot the Google duck' engine."

          Citation needed. Really.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Make it clear which results are being paid for"

        They have an "Ad" or "Sponsored" tag next to them - or are you suggesting that you can buy Organic Search Engine Placements in Google?

        "make it clear if Google has a business relationship with any of the results"

        Err... if it says Google on it (or Ad or Sponsored) they have a business relationship. If it doesn't, they don't.

        "make it clear if Google has removed results because of a competing business relationship"

        WTF? Every results page has to have a statement that says "We have not removed any results due to a competing business relationship" - Did you write the EU cookie law?

    5. ratfox Silver badge
      Holmes

      Essentially, stop showing its own products in a different way than standard results. Stop showing a map from Google Maps when searching for an address. Stop inserting a box of reviews from Google Hotel Finder when searching for "Hotel in London". Stop showing results from Google Flights when searching for "flight from LA to SF". Stop displaying results from Google Shopping with pictures.

      Go back to displaying 15 blue links and ads and nothing else. Otherwise, they are unfairly displaying their products in a nicer way than those of competitors, which are only displayed as typical search results.

      It would be arguably worse for the user; but it is precisely because the current situation makes it so convenient for the user to click on a Google product that the competitors are complaining. The day Google started displaying unit conversions when searching for "10 miles in km", a dozen websites lost 90% of their traffic. Just because Google answered right away the question of the user.

      1. JoshOvki

        "Essentially, stop showing its own products in a different way than standard results. Stop showing a map from Google Maps when searching for an address. Stop inserting a box of reviews from Google Hotel Finder when searching for "Hotel in London". Stop showing results from Google Flights when searching for "flight from LA to SF". Stop displaying results from Google Shopping with pictures."

        But I enjoy them features, that is one of the reasons I use Google because it gives all of the information I want without the hassle.

        "The day Google started displaying unit conversions when searching for "10 miles in km", a dozen websites lost 90% of their traffic. "

        Well perhaps they should have come up with a better business plan. How much revenue did HMV loose when Spotify came about? You don't see Spotify being fined for having a better business plan.

      2. Michael Thibault

        >Go back to displaying 15 blue links and ads and nothing else. Otherwise, they are unfairly displaying their products in a nicer way than those of competitors, which are only displayed as typical search results.

        Not to argue against Something Being Done, but how do you police such a solution (and who does it) without requiring that Google reveal trade secrets?

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I still don't see how Google is worse than Microsoft. People have to type google.com into a browser whereas Microsoft put a browser in their OS and made a Microsoft site the default page. They also made hidden API's that they (Microsoft) would use for their own products.

        @ratfox

        "Stop showing a map from Google Maps when searching for an address."

        Their competitors do the same thing though. Go to Bing and Microsoft shows Bing Maps.

      4. kyza

        Should I be looking for an /s tag in here somewhere?

        'Google should make its web experience shit for consumers because convenience and being able to find things easily and quickly on the internet is a Bad Thing.'

        I'm sorry, but as a nebulous consumer, I quite like a quick answer to questions like that.

        1. king of foo

          it's a ****** website...

          They could make the top 10 pages of results all be links to pictures of toilets if they felt like it.

          If a business transaction is taking place where gooogle are being paid for promoting results then so what? It would surely only be a legal issue if they pocketed the cash and didn't promote those results, eh? Usually the law is grounded in common sense, it's only NEW laws written by capitalist pigs that don't make sense.

          Brussels, go home.

          What if I made a map; a paper one, and put pictures on it of what I deemed to be key landmarks. You know, bars, supermarkets, rubbish dumps etc. Then i gave it away to people, for free. I didnt walk up to them and shove it in their face, i just left a stack of them on a table with a sign saying "free maps". Would I get the EU whinging at me for not putting pictures of charity shops on there? I don't see how a search engine is any different. Look, here are some things we found for you. You are under no obligation to use them or indeed our website. Also, look, here's an advert for a toilet... and a free map...

          Right, I'm off for a pee...

      5. Nuke
        WTF?

        @Ratfox

        Wrote :- "Stop showing a map from Google Maps when searching for an address"

        This is getting really silly.

        How about paper maps. Do you buy an Ordnance Survey map and then complain that when you open it it shows an Ordnance Survey map? Do you look in the paper Yellow Pages and complain that it does not tell you to go and look in Thompsons instead? WTF do expect to see when you look for an address on Google's website?

        If it really pisses you off, use Steetmap instead.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Ratfox

          @Nuke,

          Interesting point about the Yellow Pages. They do sell advertising but not every listing is an ad. I also only receive one Yellow Page type book, so surely they have a monopoly and the big business that buys bigs ads have an advantage over the small guys. So maybe the EU should do something about that.

      6. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. Terry Cloth
    Boffin

    Gold standard available

    It's the frequency of ``I'm feeling lucky'' use. When Google started, I was blown away by how often it got me just what I wanted. I hadn't used it in years when I switched over to DDG.

    So, the EU should require Google to raise use of IFL to the level it was in their first years as compliance metric.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Gold standard available

      That's silly. There is no company in the world which is capable of that. Not even Google.

      You might as well demand that banks give the same interest rates on saving accounts as in the 1950s.

      1. VinceH Silver badge

        Re: Gold standard available

        "That's silly. There is no company in the world which is capable of that. Not even Google."

        Huh?

        You appear to be saying that there is no company in the world - not even Google - which is capable of raising " use of IFL to the level it was in [Google's] first years as compliance metric."

        So Google aren't capable of making "I'm Feeling Lucky" as good as Google once made it?

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: Gold standard available

          "So Google aren't capable of making "I'm Feeling Lucky" as good as Google once made it?"

          That's what the man said, and he's right.

          The internet is a bigger place, and getting IFL right becomes an infinitely Hard problem as the cruft accumulates. Besides, your IFL "correct" is not mine. We're different. So yeah, that feature will get more and more useless, then be removed.

          1. VinceH Silver badge

            Re: Gold standard available

            "That's what the man said, and he's right.

            The internet is a bigger place, and getting IFL right becomes an infinitely Hard problem as the cruft accumulates. Besides, your IFL "correct" is not mine. We're different."

            Yes, but Google does its very best to know we're different, and your "I'm Feeling Lucky" result is likely to be different from mine for the same search term. At least that's the theory, with Google's ongoing mission to try to identify, track and profile every person on the planet.

            Where it falls down, of course, is with people like me allowing Google to only store session cookies (because of those occasions I need to log in - otherwise it'd be no cookies at all), along with running script blockers, etc. But people like me (and I suspect you) probably form a minority - so while for us, then, your nay-saying of its ability may be true, for the majority it probably isn't.

            However...

            "So yeah, that feature will get more and more useless, then be removed."

            Do you know what? I thought it already had been removed as part of Google's ongoing policy to take away things that people do actually find useful.

            But I've just looked - it's still there.

            However, in a way they have taken it away - because as soon as you type anything into the search box, the search becomes active (which has been the case for a long time - I can't remember offhand if they've called this active search, or live search, or something like that) and the IFL button disappears.

            The only time it can be clicked, AFAICS, is before you've entered anything in the search box - which pretty much makes it useless already, by default. (Here it just takes me straight to Google's Doodles page, every time).

            How silly is that?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fake Investigations

    Google should use it's billions to wage a smear campaign against Brussels, all of the EU staff and the political cronies of them as the EU has against Google.

    Like deserves kind.

    This "investigation" of Google (just like the one of Microsoft) is a complete sham, instigated by bitter people who just can't make a good search product and don't even try to do so.

    This not about "monopoly", it's about a better product completely displacing a useless one.

    If you can't make a good product, quit complaining about those who do.

    Spend your time and money doing something PRODUCTIVE instead of whining.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: Fake Investigations

      Except Microsoft actually were abusing a monopoly...and continue to do so. Windows 8 was nothing more than a transparent attempt to leverage a desktop monopoly to create one in the smartphone space...to the detriment of everyone.

      I have to see any evidence that Google are abusing their monopoly. For the record, keeping the really low-quality shite results from the sorts of spammy link farms that are bitching about this with Microsoft's money behind them out of my searches is exactly why I use Google. Because it keeps the trash out of sight.

      That's not an abuse of monopoly; that's providing a quality service. And I'd gladly pay for that quality, when I look at what the alternatives are.

  5. i like crisps
    Big Brother

    Yeah, and....

    ....when this case is done and dusted, perhaps Google could then face formal charges for reading our PRIVATE emails!!!!!

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Yeah, and....

      If you do not want *every* device (and its administrator) that handles your email to be able to read it at will, then encrypt it. Google's (filter) reading it could result in delivery to you of ad content in which you might have interest, that you can mostly exclude with Adblock Plus. Can the same be said of all the other's (filters) that may read your email?

    2. JoshOvki

      Re: Yeah, and....

      So you know that spam filter for getting rid of all that rubbish that comes in... it is reading your PRIVATE emails!!!!!111one!

      1. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: Yeah, and....

        As is, of course, your ISP's spam filter (if you use their email service as I do), but that, of course is good surveillance, unlike Google's.

  6. Marcus Aurelius
    Flame

    This is a poorly disguised lynching party

    .. by its failed competitors.

    Even if Google has a monopoly, it has no obligation to direct traffic to its competitors. For example, IBM has never had an obligation to recommend you buy HP.

  7. Gamberoni

    This is principally a German political and business problem

    There's an excellent Economist article - http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21615602-germanys-opposition-american-technology-firms-short-sighted-and-self-defeating-googlephobia

    In summary, it says that the issue is that German companies have been caught on the hop and don't have any genuine contenders in web businesses and are now looking to bury Google and other US tech companies.

    And to the poster who tried to tie the Microsoft and Google cases together as if one wasn't significantly worse than the other - for shame. Microsoft went out and destroyed competitors. Google's "crimes" are minor in comparison - but should still be investigated.

    This case is about politics pure-and-simple - mostly German - but there are plenty of other shameless ambulance chasers from the rest of the EU.

  8. Alan Denman

    But he dismissed such dissenting voices today.

    ""..there are more problems with Google than there were with Microsoft," Almunia was quoted as saying."

    Yet Microsoft were still allowed a 99% monopoly through so called 'competition'.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is friggin ridiculous this sanity check with the complainants.

    As all the complainants are either Microsoft backed or come under Rupert Murdoch, the complainants are never going to be happy until a proper spanner is put in Google's model. This isn't about anti-competition any more it is about competitors trying to force Google to be crippled, either by a large fine or by making its search engine much poorer for consumers.

    The investigation should be run by an independent analyst/team of analysts who concentrate purely on whether Google is illegally abusing a dominant position and whether it is bad for consumers. They are welcome to get opposing points of view from the competitors but these should be taken under the premise that they are competitors. Nearly all the complaints are just absolutely without foundation.

    The F'em one is completely laughable - a company that pissed off web users by meta searching their results and spamming the index complained when an algorithm update took down the rankings of unoriginal content.

  10. tom dial Silver badge

    Google search results are, by my standards, superior to those of Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Yahoo! in about that order. In my opinion, they are quite right to downrate comparison shopping sites in favor of the direct result; those sites are pretty useless in my experience, and I suspect there is widespread agreement on that - from web users. And I rather expect, without ever having looked, that the other major search engines behave much the same as Google with respect to the aggregators.

    Microsoft and other search engine operators are unhappy that they have been unable to compete successfully with Google. Google's enterprise naturally operates to eliminate the need for middlemen and the middlemen are unhappy that they receive less money for what most people no longer see as a useful service. As a group they have petitioned government authorities for relief that will draw money away from Google and deliver it to them. This activity is called "rent seeking". Whenever and wherever it is practiced successfully it operates to the detriment of the many in favor of the few, and it should be opposed and discouraged.

    The petitioners should be told to go home and study harder if they want better results.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The problem with Google is ...

    The problem with Google is not the display layouts and such like. And they certainly should NOT be forced to display competitor results above their own unless they are superior.

    Which point leads to the crux of the Google issue.

    When they launched their shopping, or their maps, they broke that rule. They used their dominance in one market (search) to advance their cause in other markets (shopping, maps) illegally by favouring their own offerings above their competitors even though (at that time) the Google offerings were decidedly NOT the most popular and useful result (regardless of their quality now). You know, in exactly the same way that Microsoft did by leveraging OS to gain browser share.

    Whether you agree that should be illegal is by the by (personally I don't), the fact remains that it *is* illegal to use dominance in one market to force a position in another. And Google did it repeatedly.

    As an aside, there are moves afoot to investigate Google regarding Android for a similar (but different) issue - tying the use of their OS to the promotion of Google's own apps (including how many clicks away from the home screen they should be). Again, I personally have no problem with that but the point remains that it, too, is usually considered an illegal practice when performed by a monopoly provider (note that you don't need 100% of the market or a lack of competition to be classed as a monopoly).

  12. Nuno trancoso

    Oxygen consuming parasites

    The EC by any other name. Just another fine example of why we need to get rid of those resource consuming scumbags.

    If i ran a search engine, it would be MY call what is relevant or not. MY metrics, MY decision. And if the users "promoted" me to be the de facto standard, then i guess it would be proven ipsis facto that i had gotten it right and the competition hadn't.

    If i decided to use one part of my business to promote another, where is the wrongdoing? It's like saying a car manufacturer can't make and promote it's brand of tires should it wish to do so. Stupid at best.

    Once more the EC shows it's cluelessness and willingness to pander to the lobbies of the "unfit" that feel the need to claw back by legislation what they lost in the "open market of free choice".

    In truth, if i was Google, i'd just pack up and go. Close shop in the EU, take my business elsewhere and give them the finger. It's not like that would stop people using it and the EC would have trouble justifying to former employees why they'd been sacked and to governments why they'd lost revenue from G's European ops.

  13. ecofeco Silver badge

    Tweak the search engine, how exactly?

    Just exactly how do they want it tweaked? I have yet to see any of the demands, let alone the over all detailed desired result.

    Granted, I'm not going out of my to look for it because I really don't want to slog through page after page of legalese and bureau-speak.

    Maybe that's the problem right there.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Tweak the search engine, how exactly?

      There are two principal and easily stated functional requirements:

      From Microsoft: "make google results at least as poor as mine."

      From the aggregators and comparators: "remove all results that duplicate ours."

      The implementation details are, of course up to the implementor, Google; but the complainants will continue to whine until they are convinced that their requirements are met

  14. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge
    Joke

    Europe?

    What's that? I Googled it and nothing came up.

  15. Sheep!

    "Microsoft was investigated [for] 16 years..."

    So shouldn't you be better at it by now?

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