EU Burdened with Proving Google Antitrust Claim

It's hard to find folks who believe the European Commission will successfully hammer Google for pumping up its search results over those of smaller rivals.

Legal experts, search gurus and financial analysts don't believe Google should sweat the European Commission's formal investigation into it allegedly boosting its search results over smaller rivals.

That's because Europe's antitrust watchdog is saddled with the burden of proving that Google fiddled with the math that drives its complex search algorithm, which leverages hundreds of signals to place search results on

The European Union said Nov. 30 its antitrust watchdog will scrutinize Google based on allegations from Foundem, eJustice and Microsoft's Ciao that the search engine surfaces links for its own Web services over those of the smaller comparison-shopping engines on

The Commission will further look into allegations that Google lowered the quality score for sponsored links from competing search services and consider whether Google prevented ad partners from placing competing ads from some vendors on their Web sites.

The complaints were initially broached to the Commission last February. Google said that its machine-based search algorithm is designed to provide the best results possible for users in an unbiased fashion.

"Not every Website can come out on top, or even appear on the first page of our results, so there will almost always be Website owners who are unhappy about their rankings," Google said in a blog post Nov. 30.

The Commission, therefore, has the burden of proving that Google deliberately toyed with the search algorithm to push Foundem, Ciao and eJustice lower in its search results, said Brett Gordon, marketing professor at Columbia Business School.

Gordon explained that Google's search result rankings, or PageRank, naturally change over time based on users' queries, browsing behavior, and the structure of links across pages.

"The EC would have to show that Google unfairly tampered with their algorithm to disadvantage other search services," Gordon said in an e-mail sent to eWEEK.

Moreover, sponsored-links ranking depends on how advertisers bid for particular keywords, as well as their respective quality scores.

"The EC will have to show that any apparent drop in a sponsored advertisers' ad rank was the result of a specific action by Google to limit competition and not the natural outcome of competition in the marketplace," Gordon added.