EU launches antitrust probe into Google search tampering

It has emerged that Google is currently facing an investigation by EU regulators over instances where the company has allegedly tampered with rival services and companies featuring in its search results and in some cases preventing other websites from launching ads that compete directly with its services.

Bloomberg reports that the European Commission will be looking into the allegations “as a matter of priority”, checking into whether Google is restricting its advertising partners ability to place specific types of ads on their websites with the aim of reducing the ability to promote services offered by competing search tools.

The investigation will focus on how Google ranks unpaid ads that are provided by other search services, specifically “vertical” search engines, services that Google has previously confirmed will rank poorly due to the fact they repurpose and republish content. This broadly affects price-comparison websites that capture content from other websites and provide searches against them, one of the main points of contention between the companies filing complaints and the search giant itself.

The antittrust complaint was filed in February by three companies; UK-based price comparison site Foundem, French legal search website Ejustice.fr and Microsoft’s service Ciao.

Google isn’t necessarily at fault, it has long maintained that it will penalise republished content. The European Commission will, however, have to delve into Google’s search algorithm and assess whether the search giant is purposely singling out specific companies in regards to how it displays content.

Google issued the following statement:

“Since we started Google we have worked hard to do the right thing by our users and our industry,”

“But there’s always going to be room for improvement, and so we’ll be working with the Commission to address any concerns.”

Of course, this isn’t the time Google have been subject to investigation in Europe. Earlier in the year, Google came under fire when it emerged that its Street View cars were unintentionally collecting information from wireless networks they came into contact with they travelled throughout Europe.

Whilst Google escaped further action in the UK, the search giant was unable to delete the collected data initially due to the way different European authorities dealt with the privacy breaches. Last week, the UK’s Information Commissioner agreed to let Google delete its data.

German citizens were offered the option to opt out of Google Maps data collections, resulting in many houses featured on Street View needing to be blurred out.

Microsoft also finds itself in a familiar position, although this time it is on the other side of proceedings. Having been subject to an EU investigation into the bundling of its Internet Explorer browser with its Windows operating system, the company was one of the three companies that filed the complaint against Google.

We must now wait whilst the European Commission looks deeper into the allegations, more on this as it develops.