Google on Thursday predictably denied European Union charges that it was abusing its dominant position in the Internet search market to stifle rivals.
Responding to a formal statement of objections (SO) filed against the company by European Union antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager in April, Google said that its services had increased choice for European consumers while opening up new opportunities for businesses of all sizes.
The company rejected the charge that it gave preferential treatment to products in its own comparison-shopping site when people use its general search engine to look for particular products. It also rebutted claims that its ad displays and specialized organic search results somehow prevented shopping site aggregators from reaching their consumers.
“We believe that the SO's preliminary conclusions are wrong as a matter of fact, law, and economics,” Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel said in a blog post Thursday. “We look forward to discussing our response and supporting evidence with the Commission, in the interest of promoting user choice and open competition.”
With Google’s formal response, the ball is now back in the EU antitrust chief’s court in terms of what happens next. Vestager has previously noted that she would wait to review Google’s response to the charges before deciding how to proceed.
In the EU, a statement of objection is generally considered a formal first step toward a full-scale anti-trust investigation. In Google’s case, the main focus of the SO is on the Google Shopping comparison-shopping site in the EU. The SO charges Google with giving the site too much prominence in its search engine results and potentially depriving consumers of access to other comparison-shopping sites.
Vestager has noted that if her investigations show that Google did indeed violate EU anti-competition laws with its shopping site, the Commission could use that as a basis to enforce EU laws in other areas of Google’s business as well.
In his blog post, Walker noted that Google has used traffic analysis data, economic data and an “array of documents and statements” from rivals spanning more than a decade, to show why the EUs claims about it hurting the competition are wrong.
“And we show why the SO is incorrect in failing to consider the impact of major shopping services like Amazon and eBay, who are the largest players in this space,” he noted.
As opposed to draining traffic away, the universe of online shopping overall has benefited in an enormous increase in traffic from Google, Walker said. Diverse new players have entered the market and new investments are continuing to be made in this segment.
Meanwhile, Google has delivered, what Walker described as more than 20 billion free clicks over the past 10 years to shopping aggregation sites in the region covered by the SO, he said.
At the same time, the manner in which people do comparison-shopping and buy products has also evolved over the years he said suggesting that users have begun relying less on shopping aggregation sites.
“Users on desktop and mobile devices often want to go straight to trusted merchants who have established an online presence,” he said.