Monday, 5 November 2012

Manipulating online search results

Last week the European Consumer Organisation BEUC sent a letter to the Vice President of the European Commission, Joaquín Almunia, concerning the European investigation in the antitrust market practices of Google. The concern is that Google abuses its dominant market position in the online search market "by directing users primarily to its own services and secondly by reducing the visibility of competing websites and services." These sort of practices have a great influence on consumers, since they misled them in their choice and reduce that choice. 

BEUC further expresses its concerns: "Consumer associations across Europe may be directly affected by Google’s practices. They operate price comparison websites providing consumers with accurate, independent and complete information on products and services. Such services are in direct competition with Google’s own services and therefore subject to Google’s algorithm ranking for natural search results.". (Monique Goyens, Director General of BEUC) 

The European Commission considers a settlement with Google and BEUC argues for effective remedies being applied as a result thereof, which should not be limited to an obligation for Google to label its own vertical search services. While labelling would better inform consumers about the source they base their choices on, it would not prevent discrimination against competing services. This could only be solved if the same search algorithm applied to Google as to its competing services. 

BEUC mentions also Google's disregard to the changes in the EU Data Protection legislation which resulted in its failure to adjust timely their privacy policies. This in turn allows Google to collect a huge amount of data on its users, which facilitates their search results and is therefore relevant for the ongoing procedure.

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