EU companies claim Google still abusing its Shopping power

Search giant's 'Shopping Units need to go,' say coalition of 43 online comparison tools

A group of European comparison shopping service (CSS) companies say Google hasn't been true to the terms of a 2017 settlement requiring it to be more fair to competitors. The coalition now wants EU antitrust regulators to force Google's hand.

The letter, addressed to EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager, was signed by 43 companies across the EU, alleging that despite the fact Google has been levied with the record-setting €2.4 billion ($2.3 billion) antitrust fine five years ago, little has changed. 

"Having suffered first-hand from Google's failure to ensure equal treatment within general search results pages, we have been requesting formal steps against Google's non-compliance with the … decision since 2017," the companies write in the letter, which The Register has seen in full but does not have permission to publish. 

Google's fine and alleged continued behavior centers around Google Shopping, the company's own CSS. In 2017 EU antitrust regulators said the service was being used to give preference to Google's own results while downranking competitor's services, like those available from Kelkoo Group, Germany's Idealo, Swedish PriceRunner and other signatories of the letter. 

Per the letter to Vestager, EU CSS companies allege Google has done little to comply with the rules, instead choosing to build a network of CSS partners that act as intermediaries for Google to deliver its own prices to Google Shopping users under other names, making it appear as if Google's ads are full of prices from other comparison services.

"93 percent of the offers in Shopping Units originate from companies that do not compete with Google on any relevant market for comparison shopping services but that have become mere resellers of Google Shopping Ads which they buy at a marginal profit on behalf of merchants," the letter argues.

While advocating for EU antitrust regulators to take action to enforce parts of the 2017 decision they claim hadn't been enforced, the letter communicates the belief that Google's alleged violations provide a perfect test case for enforcement of the Digital Markets Act (DMA), one of two antitrust laws the EU recently passed. 

The DMA will go into effect in 2023 and forces "gatekeepers" like Google that control access to large online markets, to allow fair and open access to smaller businesses that could be seen as competitors.

"We have patiently waited for the General Court's endorsement of the [2017] decision and the DMA's ban on self-preferencing," the letter writers say. "Considering the unambiguous new legal framework [of the DMA], it is now time to walk the talk."

Google has tried and failed to have the 2017 fine vacated, but that's not even the biggest of its European antitrust problems right now: last month, joint cases filed in the UK and EU allege Google has deprived publishers of "billions of euros" through anticompetitive behavior. The company behind this latest lawsuit was also behind a case brought last year in France that saw Google fined €220 million (£189 million) for abusing its authority over publishers. ®

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