Microsoft wades into the Google antitrust fray as publishers call for EC to reject deal

Microsoft wades into the Google antitrust fray as publishers call for EC to reject deal

Summary: Opponents to Google's EU search proposal have stepped up calls to reject the deal as the EC's competition chief prepares to step down.

TOPICS: Google, Legal, EU

Microsoft and European publishers have made a last ditch effort to derail a proposed European Commission antitrust settlement with Google before the EC's current competition commissioner steps down this October.

Google submitted its third set of proposed remedies to the EC in February, intended to appease the regulator's worries that the search company is unfairly exploiting its dominance of the search market, particularly around specialised search services such as shopping or travel. If approved by the EC's competition commission, the proposals could put an end to Europe's four-year investigation into Google's search practices, which carries a theoretical maximum penalty of $5bn fine and tough restraints on how it conducts its business within the EU.

While Europe's competition boss Joaquín Almunia indicated the proposals would suffice for a deal, smaller vertical search companies and European publishers have objected to the suggested settlement, saying it will do nothing to stop Google giving its preferential treatment to its own properties.

While Microsoft hasn't said much publicly on the proposals, yesterday Reuters reported that its director of competition law Jean-Yves Art expressed concern that Google contractually made it difficult for advertisers to switch to competitors.

"The proposals don't cure or eliminate all restrictions that we and rivals see. There are still restrictions preventing them from providing interoperability," he quoted Art as saying.

One of the most contested proposals in the settlement is Google's offer to display links to three rivals' vertical search products in a manner comparable to the way it displays its own.

Complaints include that the planned auction system that would be used to allocate rivals a spot in the non-Google box resembles a protection racket, in the words of one publisher. Another is that the space Google offered for rivals on its search page is lower value real-estate than the space reserved for Google's services.

In a document Microsoft has handed out to media, the company details a study to prove this point. Over three weeks in April, Microsoft tweaked Bing to reflect what Google's search page would like under the settlement for vertical search categories, including hotel, local, and shopping searches. Under the proposal, Google's "specialised search results" for each vertical would appear above or adjacent to the rival box.

Looking at Local, Microsoft found that despite the prominence of rival links, users were 99 times more likely to click on links in Google's specialised search results.

It also conducted an experiment with around 10,000 participants in the UK where they were shown a modified Google UK search page based on pages that display results for Google's Hotels and Shopping boxes.

Microsoft's Google UK rival link experiment
Microsoft's Google UK rival link experiment. Image: Microsoft

Microsoft reversed the placement of rival and Google's boxes, and found that traffic to Google's verticals declined by 74 times for hotel searchers and 10 times for shopping searches. And, as an aside to relevance, Microsoft points out that rivals achieved a higher click rate than Google achieved in the same position.

Yesterday, president of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) Helmut Heinen warned that the proposal in its current form would "effectively legalise Google's abusive self-preference". 

His comments come as part of a joint effort by publishers to encourage the EC to reject the proposed settlement. On Thursday, the European Magazine Media Association said "the proposed deal would clearly fail to remedy the serious competition concerns identified by the Commission".

"Closing the pending Google investigation on the basis of this proposal would not even remedy the four competition concerns identified by the Commission, let alone address the urgent competition concerns raised in the various complaints," it added.

A Google spokesman said: We've co-operated fully with the European Commission's investigation over the last four years. Our proposal addresses all of the EC's concerns, and greatly increases the visibility of rival services."

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Topics: Google, Legal, EU

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Don't do evil

    Google, the arch anti-trust troll, is finally getting a taste of its own medicine. This tax-dodging, privacy-stealing, anti-competitive, military-industrial dangerous corporate Borg needs to be reigned in now, while we still can. As an EU citizen myself, I demand it.
    • But only from Google?

      Your paranoia will be cured by attacking Google and allowing all the others to go unchallenged?

      Get back to your cave, and don't forget the etch-a-sketch.
      • EU has shown

        It will go after anyone it needs to, timacheson is right, Heenan73 is wrong. Heenan73 thinks that Google should be allowed to continue its bad practices just because someday some other company may do the same thing Google is today. Just plan stupid!
        • what bad practises?

          they have a popular website.. the EU tells them that because they are popular, they must advertise their rivals websites on their on site.. they did so..

          This is dodgy because Google are being penalized for having a popular search engine. not for engaging in dodgy practices which from memory, is what Microsoft got busted for.
      • Didn't EU go after Microsoft, Intel etc.?

        Why not they should go after Google?
        Ram U
      • Don't chastise timacheson for taking a page out of your book, Heenan73

        You know, where you believe your own paranoia will be cured by attacking Microsoft and allowing all the others to go unchallenged.

        You do it all the time.

        Though it sounds like Larry Page may have found a new use for his billions.... ;)
        • not in the same league.

          Google has a popular website.. they have to advertise rivals products on their site because they are popular enough to have most of the search market.

          Not even close to the big list of antitrust and anti-competitive stuff Microsoft got busted for twice mr Willy.
  • Not unexpected...

    What is seen first is more likely to be clicked on...

    You just have to be BETTER than what Google offers...
    • With your logic

      It does not matter, as Google appears first, so no matter how good you are, you will always loose out to Google, because people click on what they see first.
    • Yeah, everyone just needs to be better than Google

      because Google could not possibly favor their own services in their own search engine and display the results in a manner that would garner their services far more clicks than anyone else...

      I'm sure Google defining its own penalty is doing what is best for the market and not just Google.

      Sort of like how Google signed up with other major silicon valley tech companies in a pact to not hire each others employees and keep wages artificially low.
      • don't like don't use.

        people go to google because they like what google returns on search.

        so along comes microsoft and co demanding that Google should return traffic to them rather than the results that make google so popular in the first place.

        From microsofts perspective, forcing google to put crap on their page makes bing look better by comparison. which ironically also puts all it's services first and near as I can tell doesn't' advertise for any rivals.
    • I agree, it's not unexpected

      You know, where you blindly jump to Google's defense, posting without a thought to what it is you are going to say.
  • Of course, If you don't LIKE Google...

    You don't HAVE to use it...

    Of course, the competing search company will also have to work better...
    • the competing search company will also have to work better...

      Fat chance.
      • They already do

        Bing, is just as good as Google. IMO
        • did you overlook the word "better" ?

          Right now, Google still answers queries better and faster.

          When Bing actually does get better than Google, people will migrate.
          • It has to be enormously better for people to migrate

            with "better" being whatever most draws people to it. Using what you've been using is pretty hard to leave, unless it is despised.

            Google Search is not as good as it used to be (promotional results are more annoying). I've switched to Bing and prefer their results, though I'm not so sure that tailoring results to "my preferences" is working how I want it to be.
          • Google a search engine?

            that was prior to 2004. Now it is all about paid search results first then actual content later.
            Ram U
          • You overlooked the word

            "illegal" in a previous post to Owl:Net, so.....
      • So this scares you why?

        Why is it such a problem to you that Google is asked to operate in the same manner as everyone else.

        Do you believe Google is above the law, and should be allowed to use illegal business practices?

        You've never addressed that question, instead just threw in excuses.