Google has finally responded to the European Commission’s (EC) antitrust charges, denying that its search shopping service is anti-competitive and setting up the prospect of a major legal showdown with the EU.
Google is accused of unfairly using its search power to favour its own shopping service results at the expense of rivals', and the EC issued a Statement of Objections (SO) against the company in April.
However, a blog post by Kent Walker, senior vice president and general counsel for Google, confirmed that the company has now formally responded to the accusations and does not agree with the EC's charges.
"We believe that the SO's preliminary conclusions are wrong as a matter of fact, law and economics,” he wrote. “Our response provides evidence and data to show why the SO’s concerns are unfounded.”
Walker continued by pointing out apparent flaws in the claims made by the EC over the way in which Google operates its search service.
“The SO says that Google’s displays of paid ads from merchants (and, previously, of specialised groups of organic search results) ‘diverted’ traffic away from shopping services,” he wrote.
“But the SO doesn't back up that claim, doesn't counter the significant benefits to consumers and advertisers, and doesn't provide a clear legal theory to connect its claims with its proposed remedy."
Walker then said that Google believes the way it displays shopping results, based on its own search data about the most popular sites in its index, is the most logical way to present information people are looking for.
“We don’t think this format is anti-competitive. On the contrary, showing ads based on structured data provided by merchants demonstrably improves ad quality and makes it easier for consumers to find what they’re looking for," he wrote.
"We show these ad groups where we’ve always shown ads - to the right and at the top of organic results - and we use specialised algorithms to maximise their relevance for users.
"Data from users and advertisers confirms they like these formats. That’s not 'favouring'. That’s giving our customers and advertisers what they find most useful."
Walker also took issue with the remedies set out for how the EU wants Google to address its concerns.
"The SO also seeks a peculiar and problematic remedy, requiring that Google show ads sourced and ranked by other companies within our advertising space. We show in our response that this would harm the quality and relevance of our results," he said.
EC spokesman Ricardo Cardoso confirmed to V3 that the EC has received the submission and will now review it.
“We will carefully consider Google's response before taking any decision on how to proceed and do not want to prejudge the final outcome of the investigation,” he said.
Google’s refusal to accept the EC’s complaint could set the two on a collision course for a costly and long-running legal battle, akin to the Microsoft browser ballot case in the mid to late-2000s.
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