Yelp Adds Its Voice to Critics of Proposed EU Google Settlement

Online restaurant and business review service Yelp joined others in opposing a proposed settlement of antitrust charges in the European Union against Google.

Google EU settlement

As a proposed settlement of antitrust allegations against Google in the European Union continues to wind its way to eventual conclusion, online restaurant and business review service Yelp has entered its own objections to those of other companies that oppose the settlement proposal as it stands.

The opposition of Yelp was reported July 8 in an article by The New York Times, based on a May letter from Yelp's CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman, to José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, and to Joaquín Almunia, the group's antitrust commissioner. "I truly fear the landscape for innovation in Europe is infertile, and this is a direct result of the abuses Google has undertaken with its dominant position," Stoppelman wrote in his letter, according to the paper. "Yelp filed its objection at the beginning of June, but it came to light only in recent days," The Times reported.

In a July 9 email exchange with eWEEK, a Yelp spokesman declined to comment on the letter and about Yelp's objections to the proposed settlement.

A pending settlement between Google and the EU was announced in February 2014 to resolve an antitrust case that has lingered since November 2010 in Europe, where Google competitors had alleged that Google's search processes unfairly promoted Google's advertisers at the expense of competitors. The proposed settlement, which still faces formal final approval by the EU and its regulatory arm, the European Commission (EC), includes concessions from Google on how it will display competitors' links through the Google search engine. The EU probe had been sought by Google competitors, including Microsoft, Expedia and British search services company Foundem.

The pending agreement calls for Google to change its display practices, but not have to pay a fine that could have amounted to as much as $5 billion.

Critics of the proposed settlement, however, continue to be unhappy with the proposal, arguing that they are not being given the chance to give input on the deal. Under the terms of the apparent settlement with the EU, Google will more clearly identify its own paid ad content from its own customers when displaying search content to users and will display them with unique identifications and separate placement to make their presence clearer to users.

The settlement dance between the EU and Google in that case has been ongoing since at least early 2013, when it appeared that the two sides were close to a tentative deal. Similar rumors about settlements also surfaced in November 2013, but competitors, including Microsoft, Expedia and Foundem, often criticized the proposals that arose in the past, arguing that they still didn't go far enough to level the playing field for rivals.

In October 2013, after Google had submitted an earlier settlement offer, the EU asked Google rivals for their opinions on the offer from Google. Those rivals loudly criticized the company's proposals at the time. In September 2013, Google had submitted a fresh batch of concession proposals to the EU, but they failed to address the key concerns of the EU and the complainants in the case.

Google has been under investigation in Europe since 2010 regarding its search engine, which holds more than 60 percent of the search market, with Microsoft's Bing being a distant second. Competitors have claimed that Google works its search algorithms to favor its own products and results over those of others, giving it an unfair advantage in search and Web advertising.

In June, Google also became the focus of a new antitrust complaint filed by Portugal-based app store vendor Aptoide. The complaint comes on the heels of other existing antitrust matters plaguing the search giant in Europe. Aptoide argues in that case that Google's actions target independent app stores in an effort to make them less competitive.

In March, it was announced that Google is facing antitrust fines of $5 billion in India, where the company has been the subject of an antitrust investigation for some two years. The probe is being conducted by the Competition Commission of India (CCI), a government watchdog agency that monitors business practices to ensure fair competition.