Google this week found itself in the familiar position of defending itself in court against charges that it abused its dominant position in the Internet search engine market to the detriment of rivals.
This time, the accusation is from Streetmap EU Limited, a British company that claims its online mapping service was decimated as a result of Google giving preferential treatment to Google’s own mapping services in search engine results.
Streetmap filed its complaint against Google in 2013. London’s High Court began hearing the case this week in a trial that is expected to last through Nov. 13, Streetmap’s attorney Mark Hoskins said in a comment sent via email to eWEEK.
He declined further comment on the case. But media in the UK, including The Guardian, quoted Hoskins as saying documents exist that show how Google’s use of its Maps OneBox feature, in search results allowed it to drive traffic unfairly to Google Maps.
Streetmap has claimed that Google’s allegedly anti-competitive behavior caused a dramatic fall-off in traffic to its site, which launched in 2007.
Google did not respond to a request for comment. But its lawyers have argued that Streetmap’s market performance has to do entirely with the quality of its service and not with anything that Google has done to divert traffic away from the site.
Such complaints against Google are a regular occurrence around the world. Apart from a massive anti-trust investigation in the European Union, Google’s business practices against rivals are also under scrutiny in different parts of the world including Canada, Russia, Brazil and India.
Though the specific details might vary in each case, the general gist is that Google is abusing it huge presence to unfairly deny rivals a chance to make a market impression with their own products and services.
The EU data commissioner’s office, for instance, is examining whether Google has been giving preferential treatment to products from its own comparison-shopping site when Internet users search for products using Google's search engine.
Several firms have alleged that Google’s habit of doing this denies consumers real choice and deprives rivals of an opportunity to put their own products and comparison shopping sites in front of consumers. Many of the complaints that are being investigated against Google in other countries involve similar concerns.
Google could face hefty fines if data regulators decide the company has been abusing its market power. EU regulations for instance provide for fines of up to 10 percent of revenues if a company is found to be engaging in anti-competitive behavior.
Google has contested every claim and has insisted that its actions have actually helped rivals rather than hurt them.
With its enormous resources and wealth, Google is clearly well equipped to deal with the multiple legal battles facing the company in several countries. The question is how willing and able its foes are in engaging in potentially long and expensive legal battles with the Internet giant.