(Reuters) — A group of 165 companies and industry bodies have called on EU antitrust enforcers to take a tougher line against Google, saying the U.S. tech giant unfairly favors its own services on its web searches.
The group includes U.S. and U.K. companies, as well as peers in 21 EU countries. They sent a joint letter to EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager on Thursday that said Google was giving its own services — such as those for accommodation, travel, and jobs — preferential placement in its search results and urged swift action to stop the practice.
Google, a unit of Alphabet, has refuted assertions that it unfairly favors its own services. It says that its users are not locked in and that competition to its services is just one click away on the internet.
Vestager has levied fines totaling 8.25 billion euros ($9.7 billion) against Google in the past three years for abusing its market power to favor its shopping comparison service, its Android mobile operating system, and its advertising business.
The 165-strong group — which says it is the largest ever to write in concert to EU competition chiefs urging action — comprised 135 companies that offer online services, plus 30 industry associations.
Signatories to the letter, seen by Reuters, included longstanding Google critics Yelp, Expedia, Trivago, Kelkoo, Stepstone, and Foundem — whose complaint triggered the EU shopping probe against Google.
“While we compete amongst ourselves for the best consumer experience, there is one common competitor that does not compete fairly — Google,” the letter said.
“Google gained unjustified advantages through preferentially treating its own services within its general search results pages by displaying various forms of grouped specialized search results (so-called OneBoxes),” it added.
The OneBoxes feature outlines information and images in boxes placed near the top of search results and is often a way for local businesses to get more visibility.
A search for local jobs might throw up a box offering Google’s job-search service, for example, or results for a flight query might have a box offering Google’s flights-search service.
“With this exclusive use of OneBoxes, Google artificially keeps users within its own service and prevents them from visiting competing, more relevant services,” the letter said.
The group said the Digital Markets Act — new EU tech rules in the pipeline that would prevent dominant online platforms from favoring their own services — would take too long to come into effect. They urged Vestager to act swiftly to ensure Google gives its rivals equal treatment in search results.
“Many of us may not have the strength and resources to wait until such regulation really takes effect,” they said.
Vestager is due to announce a draft law on December 2 that will need input from EU countries and the European Parliament before it can become legislation in a process that could last a year or more. It is unclear how the new rules would affect Google’s presentation of its search results.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee. Editing by Pravin Char.)
How startups are scaling communication:
The pandemic is making startups take a close look at ramping up their communication solutions. Learn how