Encrypted email service files DMA complaint claiming it vanished from Google Search

Tuta cries foul, Chocolate Factory denies service unreachable

Tutao, known for the encrypted email service Tuta Mail, has filed a Digital Markets Act (DMA) complaint to the EU over an alleged de-ranking in Google Search.

Google Search rankings are all too familiar to search engine optimization (SEO) specialists charged with ensuring web pages rise to the top of search results. In the case of Tutao's products – Tuta Mail and Tuta Calendar – all was going well until the beginning of March 2024, when the company claims tuta.com was abruptly de-ranked in Google Search.

Rather than being displayed as a search result of thousands of keywords, the count dropped to the hundreds, the developer alleges.

Matthias Pfau, co-founder of Tuta Mail, said: "This reduction in Google Search took us by surprise as we did not change anything on our website during that time. We tried to reach out to Google about this issue, but were met with radio silence."

Google denies the claims. It told The Reg: "Search ranking updates absolutely do not aim to preference Google products, or any other particular website. The email provider in question is easily accessible globally on Search. We appreciate the feedback and will look into how we can ensure Search continues to return the most helpful, relevant results."

Tuta Mail's Pfau claims a change in results mean that when a user searches for "encrypted email," Tuta's products no longer show up. However, he went on to allege that if you search for "Tuta" or "Tutanota," the company appears in the results.

Pfau said: "We do not know why Google has basically removed our website from Google search except for branded keywords, but whatever the reason: They are destroying a direct competitor, and this goes against the Digital Markets Act. Google as a gatekeeper must be held accountable for their actions."

The company underwent a rebranding exercise in 2023 and experienced a dip in traffic, but says it managed the issue with the assistance of SEO experts. However, as of March 2024, the company claims it disappeared from the results page.

In documentation seen by The Register, the data makes for stark reading. After stripping out branded keywords (a query that contains a website's brand name or variations of it), the company claims it experienced a drop of almost 90 percent in impressions per month.

Pfau said: "What outrages me the most is not the problem itself, but Google's silence. As developers, we understand that problems can occur; but when problems are reported, you have to respond, especially if you are a gatekeeper like Google. By de-ranking our website, Google can destroy our business, and they are not even willing to listen to us. The power of Google – and the potential to abuse that power – seems limitless."

Google regularly changes its algorithm, creating a virtual arms race with SEO experts. We asked Tutao if it sought assistance, and a spokesperson told us: "We had experts look at the page, they do not see any major issues we need to address. We are aware that Google had a big update earlier last month, but no one – not even SEO experts – really knows what and how the algorithm changed things."

It is unclear why Tutao has experienced this issue. Other encrypted email providers like Proton Mail remain in the search results.

In March 2024, the European Commission kicked off a probe under the DMA into "self-preferencing" on Google Search, alongside investigations into Apple's rules on "steering" and Meta's "pay or consent" model.

According to the European Commission, it "opened proceedings against Alphabet because of concerns that it is preferencing its own vertical search services (such as Google Shopping and Google Hotels) over similar rival services in breach of the DMA." ®

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