According to a report on The Wall Street Journal's website on Thursday, Google's offices in Italy were searched by regulators seeking evidence that it forces Italian news sites to make their copy available through Google News unless they are willing to be excluded from its search result pages. A complaint was filed by an Italian newspaper organization, FIEG, which also decried the lack of information made available to publishers as to how Google News organizes links to stories.
Google Italy representatives were quoted in several places as saying: "The Competition Authority has notified us of a claim against Google Italy. We're finding out more details today, although we do know that it's in relation to Google News, which drives significant traffic and new readers to newspaper websites."
Google later posted a blog about the inquiry, acknowledging the existence of the claim but spending most of the post explaining how publishers can remove themselves from Google News, but not search results, at their request.
Google News is a sore spot for many publishing companies, which feel Google's news aggregation site siphons readers from their own websites. Marissa Mayer, Google's vice-president of search products and user experience, appeared before the US Congress in May to defend the company against such charges, and said it directs an awful lot of traffic — which can be turned into ad revenue — to newspaper websites for free.
However, allegations that Google is messing with search results pages in retaliation for business decisions are serious. Google's search results are supposed to be completely automated — driven by algorithms and keywords — and a large part of its growth has been driven by the public belief that its search results are gospel.
On Thursday, The New York Times reported that Google had denied the charges regarding the search results. Google's blog post on Thursday did not specifically address the allegation, but said there is a mechanism for removing one's content from Google News yet leaving it among search results.
The inquiry also comes at a point in Google's history where just about everything it does gets examined through an antitrust lens, with a new administration in the US taking a closer look at several parts of its business.
This article was originally posted on CNET News.