The Schmidt hits the clan: Google chief mauls publishers' 'abuse of dominance' claims

'To date, no regulator has objected to our search tactics'

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Google's exec chairman Eric Schmidt has hit back at publishers for complaining about the multinational's alleged dominance in the search market in Europe in a series of splashy newspaper ads today.

He said in a blog post this morning that the "serious nature" of the claims - that Google favours its own search products, such as Maps, YouTube and Shopping over those of its rivals - needed to be addressed.

Schmidt griped:

While we’re fortunate to have been very successful in Europe, it’s not the case that Google is "the gateway to the internet" as the publishers suggest.

He went on to say that netizens normally get news from their favourite sites. "It’s why newspapers like Bild, Le Monde and the Financial Times get most of their online traffic directly (less than 15 per cent comes from Google)," Schmidt said. "Or you might follow what other people are reading on Twitter."

The Google chairman, whose company commands about 90 per cent of the search market in the European Union where a formal competition probe into Mountain View's alleged abuse of dominance has been taking place for nearly four years, added that users were just as likely to book a flight through, say Expedia.

He went on to claim that, similarly, reviews for local biz services could just as easily be accessed directly via the likes of TripAdvisor or Yelp. Schmidt then said:

And if you are on a mobile phone - which most people increasingly are - you’ll go straight to a dedicated app to check the sports scores, share your photos or look for recommendations. The most downloaded app in Europe is not Google, it is Facebook Messenger.

He argued that it was wrong of so many of the company's enemies - including giant publishing outfits in Europe - to claim that Google was "promoting our own products at the expense of the competition. We show the results at the top that answer the user's queries directly (after all we built Google for users, not websites)."

He offered "real-life examples" to apparently support his argument:

  • Ask for the weather and we give you the local weather right at the top. This means weather sites rank lower, and get less traffic. But because it’s good for users, we think that’s OK.
  • It’s the same if you want to buy something (whether it’s shoes or insurance). We try to show you different offers and websites where you can actually purchase stuff - not links to specialised search engines (which rank lower) where you have to repeat your query.
  • If you’re after directions to the nearest pharmacy, you get a Google Map with the closest stores and information to get you there. Again we think that’s a great result for users.

It was reported late last week by the New York Times that the antitrust case currently being conducted by soon-to-exit EU competition chief Joaquin Almunia could drag on, after opposition to a planned settlement deal with Google grew even stronger on Thursday.

No wonder, then, that Schmidt spat out his cornflakes at the sight of anti-Google newspaper ads this morning.

Schmidt continued to defend Google's search tactics in his diatribe by saying that the ad giant was simply trying to serve direct answers to "your queries" fast, especially on mobile devices. He said the new way of doing things was "less hassle than the ten blue links Google used to show."

He then took comments direct from the mouth of Almunia:

Many specialised search services don't like these improvements because they mean less traffic for them. But as European Commissioner Almunia has said: “Imposing strict equal treatment … could mean returning to the old world of Google displaying only ten undifferentiated search results - the so-called ten blue links. This would deprive European users of the search innovations that Google has introduced.”

Schmidt concluded his defensive blog post by saying that Google agreed with Almunia.

"In fact, the allegations now being made by publishers have been extensively investigated by regulators in Europe and America over more than seven years," he said. "To date, no regulator has objected to Google giving people direct answers to their questions for the simple reason that it is better for users."

He signed off by quoting the chief of publishing giant Axel Springer, Mathias Döpfner, who has been outspoken against Google's "Mafia" search business in Europe.

"As Axel Springer explained in a press release announcing their most recent investments: 'there’s a lot of innovation on the search market'. Economists will tell you that innovation is typically the sign of a healthy, competitive marketplace," Schmidt said. ®

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