back to article EU says dominant Google ILLEGALLY FIDDLES search results

The EU’s chief competition regulator alleged today that Google is illegally abusing its dominant position in the search market. Antitrust commissioner Margrethe Vestager has now taken the first official step towards fining the ad-slinging search monster. “I am confident that Google has artificially boosted its position in the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is no defence of Google but what is the EU doing to help foster the European computer industry and European alternatives to Google ?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Trollface

      Regulating it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      To be fair, some of the competitors complaining about what Google is doing are from the US. And I don't just mean the arch-rival Microsoft, but Yelp, which does have a good product that could suffer a lot from Google hiding its results. As opposed to Foundem, which seems to me a crap product nobody wants to see in their results.

      I'm curious to see Google's reaction. They can claim they're doing nothing wrong, but considering the political pressure, I don't think they can realistically hope to keep things the way they are; and nobody seems to want the solutions they presented up to now. It feels to me like they'll have no choice but stopping displaying shopping results altogether, but will they be willing to do that on their own, in the hope of avoiding a fine, or will they go the distance and fight it until the bitter end?

      1. Cliff

        Isn't the whole point of having a monopoly to abuse it? And of being a dominant player to try to become a monopoly? Not sure how any of this is a surprise.

      2. TeeCee Gold badge
        Meh

        Yelp, which does have a good product...

        Funny how business strategies like; "Nice restaurant you have there. Be a crying shame if it got a load of bad reviews and went bust now, wouldn't it.........?" always seem to do well in earning a crust.

        1. fruitoftheloon
          Thumb Up

          @TeeCee

          TC,

          Quite.

          My memory may be fading, but didn't Al Capone say 'you can achieve a lot with a smile, but even more with a smile and a gun..'.

          There are similarities.

          Cheers,

          J

    3. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      Go

      @ Mine's a Guinness

      Well, it takes awhile to make sure that Euro-Google's business and technological models meet all the EU's rules. First, you need to establish that the product is going to use only metric-system computing powered by sustainable energy made in power plants constructed with 90% recycled content and staffed using a collective bargaining process that officially embraces the workplace rights of left-handed cross-dressing Laplanders who have the right to take 3 months off from Euro-Google if their free-range hormone-free reindeer gives birth.

      After that comes dividing up the company's operations proportionally among EU members, so that when the development team who is located in Germany needs toilet paper for their bathroom, they have to get it from the facilities department in Spain, which has to send it through the logistics department that is located in Hungary.

  2. Paul Shirley

    the only certain thing...

    ...is Foundem really won't like the result, whatever happens, they still won't have a product anyone wants to use and no amount of fiddling the search results will change that.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: the only certain thing...

      Yep. Just checked it for "Lenovo laptop", an item for which I never have searched. Foundem returned a panel showing 19 items,

      - 6 various monitors (e. g., ThinkPad T2220),

      - 5 or more batteries (e. g., Thinkpad T400)

      Those that actually linked to lists with a lot of apparent duplication for comparison of a single Lenovo laptop model.

      Search of google.co.uk for the same argument returned, in order, Lenovo's site, webuy.com, which did not appear especially useful, and a computer retailer in Sandy UT, USA, about 7 miles from my house. All three were clearly identified as ads. The search results included, in order, two Lenovo direct sales outlets for the UK, Currys, and John Lewis.

      A search for "Laptops" was worse, if possible for Foundem, which returned a great panel allowing me to compare price for any one of more than a hundred specific make/model devices, most of which actually appeared likely to be laptops. The couple I looked at had a lot of duplicates (easy to spot because of the default presentation order). Google.co.uk, on the other hand, returned, after the ads, links to sellers that in many cases appear to provide information to guide choice of make and model based on such things as intended use.

      Summary: Foundem is pretty much rubbish unless you already have decided upon a specific make and model, in which case your shopping quite likely is finished anyhow, although some will consult a comparison site to try to shave a few pennies from the cost.

      As I thought, it is fairly clear that Foundem's complaint, and probably others, is little more than classical rent seeking that ought to be disregarded if not punished. Such sites may have a place, but probably never will be more than secondary or tertiary sources of shopping information in their present form.

  3. Brent Longborough
    Big Brother

    Abusing their market position in search?

    Well, if and once they've managed to sort out Google, how about sorting out more important targets: NSA and GCHQ?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Despite being very much pro-europe, I'm often left with the feeling that anything american (or even 'Anglo-Saxon' as some would suggest) is automatically deprecated by some elements in the EU. I'm fairly sure that the EU isn't whiter than white either. Some accross the pond point the finger of unfairness at Airbus for example. People who live in des maisons de verre, shouldn't throw pierres.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Airbus was seen as a counter to Boeing's dominant position - perceived as buoyed up by the cross subsidy effect of all those military contracts from Washington.

  5. dz-015

    No fandroids whining on about "why don't they investigate Apple, they're much more evil, blah blah blah" yet? Must be a new record.

    1. fruitoftheloon
      Stop

      @dz 015

      Dz,

      And what would Apple have a de facto monopoly on (aside from expensive phones and now watches)?

      Which is the key difference methinks, but hey I have been wrong before...

      Regards,

      J.

      1. dogged

        Re: @dz 015

        > And what would Apple have a de facto monopoly on (aside from expensive phones and now watches)?

        They had a de facto monopoly in the form of iTunes, which they then illegally leveraged into a mobile phone business and a tablet business. But that horse bolted long ago - too late now.

        1. fruitoftheloon
          Thumb Up

          @dogged: Re: @dz 015

          Dogged,

          Oops, I forgot about itunes, may have been a bit of a Freudian slap there.

          The infernal ball of shite that is itunes was a not insignificant contributor to me acquiring my first 'droid.

          Cheers,

          J

        2. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: @dz 015

          I always thought of iTunes as malware in slight disguise, at least as provided for Windows.

  6. James Boag

    Simple solution is for the EU to "Eat it's own dog food" they should be required to use some crap search engine for every second or third search that they do ?

    1. John Lilburne Silver badge

      Dog food eating

      Personally I don't see the ads. However. Google's actual search is no better than its main rivals in search. The idea that it is better is incorrect, it misses a whole load of stuff. Try finding this page in Google Search

      http://mywikibiz.com/Naval_architecture_in_the_Industrial_Age

      we just assume Google search is better, because it comes as default in mozilla, and chrome, and because we've never questioned the idea. Do not forget that Google are primarily ad jockies, they know about advertising and creating Brand Loyalty. In search we aren't talking about the difference between Waitrose and Londis, but between Netto an Lidl.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Dog food eating

        I have to disagree. While Google's results are usually about 50% crap the other alternatives are either 80% crap or too limited to provide the results, or both.

        BTW I looked for "Naval_architecture_in_the_Industrial_Age"

        Came top of the list. In Google.

        1. John Lilburne Silver badge

          Re: Dog food eating

          Who subsitutes '_' for spaces between words in a search query. I'm sure that if I were to add quamptyxxxxzzzzbigthroatscroobledooble on a web page then searching for that would bring it top of the list too. But no ones going seach for that.

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Dog food eating

            @John Liburne

            It said,

            "Try finding this page in Google Search

            http://mywikibiz.com/Naval_architecture_in_the_Industrial_Age".

            So I said that BTW I did try.

            So your point was.....?

      2. Paul Shirley

        Re: Dog food eating

        "we just assume Google search is better"

        Many of us *remember* Google Search actually being MASSIVELY better than anything else and see no point switching to an unfamiliar alternative while G search remains competitive. What's really degraded G search down the years is persistent attacks from SEO, given the relentless gaming and cheating it's a miracle search works at all. But other search engines are at least as degraded.

        I don't miss the days aggregators and meta comparison sites regularly managed to hijack entire pages of results till the link farm banhammer hit them. Some of the loudest complainers are really whining about their scuzzy SEO efforts no longer being tolerated. I say fuck'em, they just waste my time.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Dog food eating

        Ok, so I search on

        Naval architecture in the Industrial Age

        8th link on Google after wikipedia pages and .edu pages.

        Are you making the point that Google is great because it found the "correct" result on the first page or are you complaining that the "correct" link wasn't at the top of the page or are you concerned that Google should place sites higher which use the exact phrase before others which just contain most or all of the words listed in the search term?

        FWIW,searching on "Naval architecture in the Industrial Age" placed your link second, the first link used the exact phrase as the article title.

        As far as I can see, in this instance Google is working as expected and as advertised.

      4. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: Dog food eating

        "Naval Architecture in the Industrial Age" (no underscores) - second item from www.google.co.uk, and also www.bing.co.uk

  7. codejunky Silver badge

    Eh?

    So the Google search engine is providing results favourable to Google? No way! That would be like Apple stores offering the computing power you want but... favouring Apply products. Or a Toyota showroom offering the 4 wheels you look for but favouring Toyota products.

    If Google want to fiddle the output of their own software they offer with the very clear brand name they display and unashamedly display what they see fit in the order they see fit, well I cannot believe what this world is coming to! Its almost like they own the search engine or something!

    And so there is nothing wrong with shaming them and making it public knowledge. And if they are abusing their customers or suppliers in some way then they need taking to task for it. But it is their search engine showing their output. If you dont like it use a different one or write one.

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Eh?

      If you dont like it use a different one or write one.

      (my bold)

      Good point. One of my pet peeves these days is the way that people use a free-at-the-point-of-use online service and then complain about what it does or how well it performs (or people who complain about Ebay skimming off fees without considering how much it costs Ebay to develop and run the system which they're using for relative peanuts)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Eh?

        Peanuts? I get the feeling you've never sold anything on ebay. Do a little research first.

        1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

          Re: Eh?

          Peanuts? I get the feeling you've never sold anything on ebay. Do a little research first.

          ...relative peanuts

          Again, my bold

    2. ratfox Silver badge
      Alert

      Re: Eh?

      Note that Google is claiming they are not doing it, but just showing the "most relevant results". So at least, they think it's not something they should be doing.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Eh?

      Ah codejunky, you miss the point of how the EU commission works. The pronouncements all depend on the size and how well stuffed the brown envelopes are. It has absolutely nothing to do with right or wrong, good or bad practices or anything like that.

      1. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: Eh?

        Brown envelopes?

        The slight flaw in your "argument" is that few companies would have as much money to stuff into brown envelopes as Google...

  8. Crisp Silver badge

    I'm confident that Google has illegal nuclear weapons.

    Google now has the opportunity to convince me to the contrary.

    Ok Google, prove that you haven't.

    1. Indolent Wretch

      Re: I'm confident that Google has illegal nuclear weapons.

      Yes I distinctly remember the head of FoundEm accusing Google of having nukes, and some guy from Microsoft...

      Something must be done!

  9. TeeCee Gold badge
    Facepalm

    "Convince us you ain't"

    Ah yes. Guilty until proven innocent.

    Hard enough when proving innocence doesn't involve proving a negative.....

    1. Eguro

      Re: "Convince us you ain't"

      Except that's not what actually said.

      What was said was: We believe this is the way things are. We will investigate, and should it turn out, that we are right - we will take action. Should you have relevant information regarding our investigation (and if you're Google you'll likely wish to provide information to disprove the initial belief), then you now have the chance to prove that we're wrong.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Mr.Mischief

        Re: "Convince us you ain't"

        Oops he deleted his post..

        Saying something like that is tantamount to accusing someone for instance:

        If I went to the media and said that I believe you were a sex offender but I'm getting the evidence together, how would the media treat that? Do you think that it may bias someone who might be looking to hire you for a job?

      3. fishman

        Re: "Convince us you ain't"

        "What was said was: We believe this is the way things are. We will investigate, and should it turn out, that we are right - we will take action."

        Sounds like George Bush and the weapons of mass destruction. And we all know how that turned out.

      4. cortland

        Re: "Convince us you ain't"

        Being confident is not necessarily the same as having evidence, though it may follow on that.

  10. Nick Kew Silver badge

    Could this be objectively tested?

    An independent statistical analysis could test objectively whether the Goog was doing anything wrong. First, test cases would have to be devised, ideally by independent teams, to test the hypothesis "Google search favour its own services over others that would be equally useful or better for its users". Once those cases exist, they can be tested by anyone with an understanding of A-level statistics.

    Devising the test cases is the hard part, because it needs someone to decide what results "should" be shown. You can be sure the spammers who have done battle with Google for years will be very keen to sponsor the exercise and ensure the test cases amount to something like "Google favours its own services over our pages". Indeed, I'd say it's almost certainly some such tests that have convinced the commissioner.

    This requires another set of tests closer to the real world, presenting real users with "unfairly suppressed" results alongside the "favoured" ones and watching which ones the users themselves prefer. That's a "big data" exercise, and one which Google is ideally placed to do. If Google had user-behaviour data that demonstrates users persistently shunning $spammer then I'd say Google (or rather its algorithms) are entirely justified in not presenting $spammer's URLs. Or perhaps I should say $wannabe rather than $spammer (anyone remember google results pages full of annoying, useless kelkoo junk)?

    My own $0.02: if Google did cook their results as accused, they'd lose their value to the non-paying users, and thus rapidly lose their dominance of the search market and all that goes with it. Like Yahoo (who never claimed google's level of objectivity or sophistication, nor came under such concerted attack) before them.

    1. Daggerchild Silver badge

      Philosophy Majors - start your engines!

      Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to define what 'fair' means, in a manner that cannot be abused by the SEO industry.

      We're all boned.

      1. Nick Kew Silver badge

        Re: Philosophy Majors - start your engines!

        Methinks that's essentially what Google do. And what makes Google so much better than its lesser rivals.

        They collect user behaviour data, which tells them which pages amongst the results the real-life users like, and which ones they find useless. That enables the algorithms to adjust results in favour of the former and against the latter. And helps combat SEO abuse - which is what really upsets the spammers.

  11. Montague Wanktrollop

    I believe that McDonald's is abusing its position as a major outlet of fast food by only displaying its own products prominently on the in-store menu rather than the offerings of Burger King.

    Whilst Google are no angels - EU go and take a dump you useless bunch of wankticians!

    1. dogged

      McDonald's business is selling burgers. Google's business is selling you to advertizerssupplying search results.

      The EU are not saying the Google should be supplying DuckDuckGo results along with their own.

      1. tom dial Silver badge

        @dogged:

        Supplying search results is not a business. It is, rather, a business tactic that Google uses to enable it to sell things like advertisements and links to sellers of things.

  12. Mr.Mischief

    Ah so it's just like "Prove to us that you don't have WMD" then

    Nice to know that the EU is falling in line with the US of asking people to prove a negative.

  13. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    People can use other search engines

    That's Google's response. And it is true, people can use other search engines.

    The fact is, most of them don't.

    So just because there are other search engines does not excuse Google from a bit of fairness in the market.

    On the other hand, I'd be interested in learning how exactly a search result can favor Google (or not). Google has its paid adverts on the top, which I accept because it is their site and they can do as they wish, but I always skip those. The normal results are never sites belonging to Google anyway, so how can Google be "favored" by a particular result ?

  14. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Sadly...

    .....lots of people think the internet *is* Google.

    You know the ones I mean. The ones who don't know how to use the URL and type the page name into....... Google.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    what if google does this...

    What if they rebrand "Google Search" as "Google products and other stuff from the internet".

  16. Jim 59

    Good grief. One of the worlds most powerful unelected officials is actually accusing Google of being unfairly dominant.

  17. Durant Imboden

    Has anyone explained to Ms. Vestager that, like their counterparts on other search engines, Google's "comparison shopping service" results aren't organic search results, but ads?

    The word "Sponsored" should be a giveaway.

  18. bomyne

    It's IS Google's sandbox... They can do what they want. Don't like it? Use yahoo or Bing.

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