What is at stake? Consumer choice
New businesses flourish on the Web based on advertising models which often lack transparency from a consumer perspective.
Users cannot easily distinguish between information and advertising, or
they are simply overwhelmed with unwanted offers. They do not
choose; others do so for them. Facebook, for example, recently
introduced advertising on its ‘walls’, causing confusion as it is often
not easy to differentiate between ‘posts by friends’ and advertising.
The case of Search Engines merits detailed consideration. A recent
post by Tutorspree Blog illustrates how Google’s own products
take up most of the screen space in a search. As results are ranked
following the commercial interest of Google, users do not obtain
neutral information. European Commissioner Joaquin Almunia
detailed the problematic practices of Google as follows:
“1. The favorable treatment, within Google’s web search results, of
links to Google’s own specialized web search services as compared
to links of competing specialized web search services (for
instance, services allowing users to search for specific categories
of information such as restaurants, hotels or products).
2. The use by Google, without consent, of original content from third
party web sites in its own specialized web search services. This
may reduce competitors’ incentives to invest in the creation of
3. Conditions on publishers preventing them from displaying search
advertisements from Google’s competitors on their websites; and
4. Contractual restrictions on advertisers, preventing them from
porting and managing their search advertising campaigns across
Google and competing search advertising platforms.”
In fact, the European Commission opened an antitrust investigation on online search and search advertising in November 2010. Almost four years later, in February 2014, the European Commission has reached a preliminary agreement with Google after its new offer that could address its concerns on potential abuse of dominant position.
The company has made public its new proposal, in which, in the Commission’s opinion, significant concessions have been made:
• “Google will give content providers an extensive opt-out from the use of their content in Google’s specialised search services if they so wish, without being penalised by Google.
• Google will remove exclusivity requirements in its agreements with publishers for the provision of search advertisements; and
• Google will remove restrictions on the ability for search advertising campaigns to be run on competing search advertising platforms.”
In addition to this, Google’s proposal included a compromise to be supervised by an independent monitoring trustee.
This step forward, however, has triggered a sound opposition among the search companies associations such as FairSearch.org and several political representatives. Also ICOMP, another association that gathers Google’s main competitors – Microsoft included, has immediately shown its disagreement to the initial response of the European Commission because there is no proposal of market testing in this new proposal.
The game is open, consumers’ choice is a stake but also a level playing field for all stakeholders!