The truth about Google’s anti-competitive action is in a grey zone.
Does the European Union (EU), which is charging Google for violation of its anti-trust laws, have a strong case against the tech behemoth? The EU’s competition regulator believes Google exploited the dominance of its search platform—in Europe, 90% of online search is carried out on Google—to steer away consumers from rival services towards those in its own stable, like Google Shopping, Maps, etc. The regulator has also launched an investigation to see if Google used Android, its mobile operating system, to give its apps an edge over those of competitors. In the US, though the Federal Trade Commission, in 2012, found that Google Search purposefully demoted websites of rivals, it ultimately didn’t pursue any legal action.
The truth is more in the grey zone than in a straight black-or-white “is Google guilty of anti-competitive action or not”. Searches on Google may have pushed the company’s own offerings, thereby by queering the playing field for rivals. But, at the same time, with specialised platforms now dominating searches, do these practices undermine competition enough to be deemed anti-competitive? For instance, Yelp, Expedia and the likes are increasingly preferred over general search engines—Yelp has reported that 40% of its searches are made on its app on smartphones, including Android-run ones. As search gets more and more specialised, Google is going to see its dominance lessen. While the EU may not have protectionist intentions in charging Google, its is beginnning to recognise its inertness in developing platforms that prop the digital economy. At the same time, there can be no doubt that Google’s ‘search engine bias’, coming at the cost of fledgling businesses, must be discouraged.