Google under investigation over unfair treatment claims

The European Commission has decided to investigate allegations that search engine company Google has abused a dominant position in online search in violation of European Union rules.

The opening of formal proceedings follows complaints by search service providers about unfavourable treatment of their services in Google’s unpaid and sponsored search results coupled with an alleged preferential placement of Google’s own services.

Google’s internet search engine provides for two types of results when people are searching for information. These are unpaid search results, which are sometimes also referred to as ’natural’, ’organic’ or ’algorithmic’ search results, and third-party advertisements shown at the top and at the right-hand side of Google’s search results page (called paid search results or sponsored links).

The Commission will investigate whether Google has allegedly lowered the ranking of unpaid search results of competing services, which provide users with specific online content such as price comparisons (vertical search services) and by according preferential placement to the results of its own vertical search services to shut out competing services.

The Commission will also look into allegations that Google lowered the ’Quality Score’ for sponsored links of competing vertical search services. The Quality Score is one of the factors that determine the price paid to Google by advertisers.

It will also investigate allegations that Google imposes exclusivity obligations on advertising partners, preventing them from placing certain types of competing ads on their websites with the aim of shutting out competing search tools.