Is Google An Antitrust Time Bomb?

By | May 15, 2017

Google’s business practices have been the subject of a long controversy since April 2015, when the European Commission released a statement accusing the company of using unfair competition practices. The Commission charged Google with violating the European Union competition law, by using its dominant position in the mobile phone market to promote the use of its own search engine, and related products, at the expense of its rivals. At the core of the case lies the answer of who’s going to control Android’s huge search engine market, which will carry long-term effects for SEO.

ADSENSE AND THIRD-PARTY WEBSITES

Critics accuse Google of giving preference to their AdSense ad-placement service over third-party websites. If true, this would give the company’s affiliated websites and products a huge exposure, attracting millions of potential customers and Google Ads revenue. According to the Commission, Google has signed deals with thirds party websites that binds them to give preference to Google Ads on their pages, and obtain their approval before considering to include ads from its competitors.

Google denied the charges, but say that they made some changes to its search algorithm to satisfy the Commission. The company may also point out that their Android Operating System supports search engines from other companies, like Microsoft and Apple, so the Commission may not be able to prove that they broke the EU’s antitrust law. But even if they do, the company has a good chance of appealing the case successfully.

SHOPPING RESULTS

A hotly contended issue is whether Google is favoring its Google Shopping services in the search results. The Commission’s lawsuit accuses the company of always showing the results of their comparison shopping service above those of their competitors, whether they’re relevant or nor. This behavior, they claim, is also repeated for all of Google’s products, such as Google Maps or Google News, which are displayed prominently at the top of the results page.

The company denied the Commission’s accusation, claiming that it was done based on the claim of a small number of websites. However, the exclusion of massive retailers like Amazon and eBay from the results page seems to prove the Commission’s point. If this is the case, Google will have to treat their competitors comparison shopping services the same way they treat their own and do the same with their other services. Otherwise, they risk getting a big fine and possibly compromising their dominant position in the European market.

PRE-INSTALLING GOOGLE PRODUCTS ON ANDROID DEVICES

The European Commission claims that Google uses Android’s dominance in the mobile market to force manufacturers to pre-install Google products in their devices. Smartphone manufacturers have also been prevented from selling devices with other operating systems and have to include Google Search as the default search engine. The Commission has also criticized Chrome’s inability to switch to other search engines than Google, although a recent settlement between Google and Russia might influence the company to do the same in Europe.

Google doesn’t prohibit them from installing other apps, but by forcing them to pre-install Google apps gain an edge over their competitors, since apps allow the company to collect user data that can then be used to sell ads more efficiently. Google isn’t alone in this case. Apple and Windows also pre-install their own apps on their products, but the Commission seems to be making a case with Android because of its overwhelming dominance in the European market.

WHAT LONG-TERM IMPACT WILL THIS HAVE ON SEO?

Regardless of the verdict, the case has long-term implications for SEO businesses. With over 80% of the smartphone market, Google’s Android system gives its search engine a huge advantage over its competitors. However, the recent settlement with Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service, which gives Yandex the same pre-installing rights on Android devices as Google Search, could influence the case and force Google to open up Android for other search engines.

This will create an additional demand for mobile SEO services that focus on other search engines. Without Google Search locked in by default, users will be able to choose their search engine based on their own preferences. Yandex and other competitors will likely take a lead in some regional markets. However, this may not do too much damage to Google’s European market share, since the company’s search engine continues to be the leader in the European Union by a wide margin.

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