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The biggest irony of the EU’s antitrust case against Google

Published Apr 15th, 2015 9:05AM EDT
Google EU Antitrust Charges Analysis

When I woke up this morning, I full expected to write another scathing opinion piece tearing Google to shreds for acting as a bullying monopolist. However, after reading about the EU’s case against Google, I came away with the feeling that it isn’t nearly as strong as the case American regulators seemed to have against the company, which makes it even more infuriating that the Federal Trade Commission declined to press charges.

FROM EARLIER: Google’s EU antitrust nightmare is just getting started

Don’t get me wrong, the alleged behavior outlined by the EU’s charges is certainly unethical and underhanded. Google should not be favoring its own content at the top of pages when that content isn’t nearly as widely used as competing products.

So in other words, if I do a Google search for flights to Dublin, I should get links from Expedia and TripAdvisor first if those are the two websites that are the most popular and most relevant. Instead, the first result I see is for Google Flights because Google is allegedly pumping up its own content at the expense of its rivals.

Google sells itself as the best place to get the most relevant search results and there’s no way any search results that are artificially loaded with Google+ links are relevant to the vast majority of users. This behavior also makes Google look hugely hypocritical: While it has been a champion of net neutrality, it seems to have no qualms about discriminating against rivals’ websites to promote its own in its search results.

However, I don’t think that the shady behavior outlined in the EU’s report is anywhere near as awful as the behavior outlined in the FTC’s leaked investigation into Google.

In its probe, the FTC found that Google had been flat-out swiping content from rivals’ websites to improve its own search results. When companies started complaining about Google stealing their content, Google would threaten to drop them entirely from its search results.

What’s the difference here? In the first instance, Google is pumping up its own content at the expense of rivals, however it’s not clear that this is really having that big of a negative impact on consumers — after all, Google+ was a massive flop even though Google worked overtime to promote it in search results. Similarly, Google’s efforts to boost its own shopping websites haven’t stopped anyone from using Amazon or eBay.

The second instance, however, is flat-out extortion. It’s one thing to put your own links above rivals but it’s another to remove rivals’ links entirely unless they give into your demands.

The EU says that it’s also going to look into allegations that Google has been swiping rivals’ content, which is good because I think it offers a much stronger case of Google abusing its power than the one it has right now. All the same, it would have been really nice if the FTC had decided to step up to the plate so we don’t have to wait several more years before learning more about Google’s alleged extortion racket.

Prior to joining BGR as News Editor, Brad Reed spent five years covering the wireless industry for Network World. His first smartphone was a BlackBerry but he has since become a loyal Android user.