Competition Commission of India Fines Google $21.7 Million for “Search Bias”
When companies reach a certain size in an industry, they run the risk of breaking antitrust laws. It’s been an issue for chipmaker Qualcomm in multiple countries, and Google, too. The Mountain View tech giant recently had a run-in with the European Commission over alleged shopping search results manipulation, and now faces a fine from the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for giving its commercial flight search function preferential treatment in Google Search.
Four members of the six-person watchdog found Google guilty of “infringing anti-trust conduct” and ordered it to pay ₹1.36 billion (~$21.7 million), which amounts to 5% of the average total revenue generated from the company’s Indian operations from 2013 to 2015. Google has also been instructed to “display a disclaimer in the commercial flight unit box” indicating that the “‘search flights’ link placed at the bottom” leads to Google’s Flights page.
“Google was leveraging its dominance in the market for online general web search […] to strengthen its position in the market for online syndicate search services,” the CCI said.
The ruling caps off an investigation that started back in 2012, when Matrimony.com and nonprofit Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) filed a complaint against Google and two of its international divisions, Google India Pvt Ltd and Google Ireland Ltd.
Antitrust laws are important, as they prevent companies from abusing their power. But the nature of search engines (and online services in general) could be the culprit: Google’s algorithm ranks websites and services by relevance, generally speaking. Even if Google’s commercial flight search function is the logical top result for a given search term, some agencies might see it as a violation of antitrust laws.
In any case, a Google spokesperson said the company was reviewing the “narrow concerns” identified by the Commission and assessing its next steps. “The Competition Commission of India has confirmed that, on the majority of issues it examined, our conduct complies with Indian competition laws,” the spokesperson said in a statement.