The European Union opened an anti-trust investigation into Google (GOOG) yesterday, following complaints from a UK price comparison site, Foundem, a French legal search engine called ejustice.fr, and Microsoft‘s Ciao! from Bing.
Below we’ve pasted the company’s response, which hints that Microsoft (MSFT) is behind the investigation.
- Subject-matter specific search engines Foundem and ejustice.fr claim their pages aren’t ranked high enough in Google’s results.
- Google says “our algorithms aim to rank first what people are most likely to find useful,” but says, “we are also the first to admit that our search is not perfect.”
- Google points out that Foundem is a member of an organisation called ICOMP, which is partially funded by Microsoft.
- Google says it had a great relationship with Adsense partner Ciao! until Microsoft bought them in 2008. Now “Ciao! from Bing” is filing a suit over Google’s “standard terms and conditions.”
- Google says “Ciao! from Bing” tried to file a suit in Germany first, but failed and had to shop it to Brussels.
Here’s the whole post:
Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 7:42 PM ET
Posted by Julia Holtz, Senior Competition Counsel
(Cross-posted from the European Public Policy Blog)
As Google has grown, we’ve not surprisingly faced more questions about our role in the advertising ecosystem and our overall approach to competition. This kind of scrutiny goes with the territory when you are a large company. However, we’ve always worked hard to ensure that our success is earned the right way — through technological innovation and great products, rather than by locking in our users or advertisers, or creating artificial barriers to entry.
The European Commission has notified us that it has received complaints from three companies: a UK price comparison site, Foundem, a French legal search engine called ejustice.fr, and Microsoft’s Ciao! from Bing. While we will be providing feedback and additional information on these complaints, we are confident that our business operates in the interests of users and partners, as well as in line with European competition law.
Given that these complaints will generate interest in the media, we wanted to provide some background to them. First, search. Foundem – a member of an organisation called ICOMP which is funded partly by Microsoft – argues that our algorithms demote their site in our results because they are a vertical search engine and so a direct competitor to Google. ejustice.fr’s complaint seems to echo these concerns.
We understand how important rankings can be to websites, especially commercial ones, because a higher ranking typically drives higher volumes of traffic. We are also the first to admit that our search is not perfect, but it’s a very hard computer science problem to crack. Imagine having to rank the 272 million possible results for a popular query like the iPod on a 14 by 12 screen computer screen in just a few milliseconds. It’s a challenge we face millions of times each day.
Our algorithms aim to rank first what people are most likely to find useful and we have nothing against vertical search sites — indeed many vertical search engines like Moneysupermarket.com, Opodo and Expedia typically rank high in Google’s results. For more information on this issue check out our guidelines for webmasters and advertisers, and for an independent analysis of Foundem’s ranking issues please read this report by Econsultancy.
Regarding Ciao!, they were a long-time AdSense partner of Google’s, with whom we always had a good relationship. However, after Microsoft acquired Ciao! in 2008 (renaming it Ciao! from Bing) we started receiving complaints about our standard terms and conditions. They initially took their case to the German competition authority, but it now has been transferred to Brussels.
Though each case raises slightly different issues, the question they ultimately pose is whether Google is doing anything to choke off competition or hurt our users and partners. This is not the case. We always try to listen carefully if someone has a real concern and we work hard to put our users’ interests first and to compete fair and square in the market. We believe our business practices reflect those commitments. Correction: An earlier version of this post said Foundem is partically funded by Microsoft. That is not true. Foundem is a member of an organisation called ICOMP, which is partially funded by Microsoft.
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