29 Jun The EU is Wrong, but Google is Still in Trouble
I’ve discovered it powerful to get my head round all of the arguments in the current EU judgement towards Google. I discover that writing helps me get my ideas collectively and work out what I actually suppose, so right here goes. Let’s discover out whether or not I agree with the ruling or not…
First – the background – you solely actually need to learn two issues to get the gist of the grievance:
The EU’s press launch asserting the file EUR2.four billion positive is surprisingly accessible and readable, and hyperlinks out to a bunch of helpful assets
Google’s response is comparatively brief and seemingly mild on content material, but truly frames the important thing factors of the counter-argument properly when you already know what you’re searching for – see under!
In a case like this that depends on advanced technical topics and in addition areas of the regulation (in this case competitors regulation) with which most of us usually are not acquainted, I believe it’s helpful to ensure we’re all speaking about the identical issues. In reality, this is most likely my largest criticism of the EU’s press launch (not the judgement – simply the communication). It would have benefited drastically from ensuring we’re all speaking about the identical issues. Here are my finest explanations of the important thing components you’ll want to perceive:
Search (typically “basic search”) – at its easiest, this is the method of typing a question, and receiving hyperlinks to pages that fulfill your want. In apply, it has prolonged to different inputs (e.g. voice) and different outputs (e.g. solutions, wealthy outcomes and many others.). We’ve written extensively about adjustments in the search market
Organic search – the outcomes of searches that seem in an order decided by the search engine based mostly on their high quality and relevance in addition to their probability of satisfying the searcher’s intent. Organic (or “natural”) search outcomes usually are not promoting outcomes, no cash adjustments fingers, and there is no option to pay for inclusion or for a greater rating
Paid search (additionally “Pay Per Click” or PPC) – adverts offered by Google and different serps permitting advertisers to pay to seem subsequent to go looking outcomes based mostly on the search phrase or phrase (and different variables)
Comparison buying engines (CSEs) – web sites the place you possibly can seek for a product sort, class or model after which examine totally different merchandise and/or totally different retailers – sometimes by sorting, filtering, and making use of aspects. The enterprise mannequin is sometimes both for retailers/manufacturers to pay instantly for inclusion, to pay for the clicks they obtain, or for the engine to obtain affiliate payouts when a searcher buys from the vacation spot web site
Google Shopping – Google’s personal comparability buying engine – the place you possibly can kind and filter merchandise, apply aspects, and click on out to retailers’ websites – sometimes accessed by way of the “shopping” hyperlink on the prime of a search outcomes web page
Product Listing Ads (PLAs) – a type of paid search whereby adverts for particular person merchandise (full with wealthy info in the type of photographs and costs) seem above, or to the facet of the search outcomes. Individual PLAs are introduced in the identical kind as product hyperlinks in Google Shopping, and the info comes from the identical sources, but PLAs in the search outcomes don’t represent a comparability buying engine to my thoughts – there is no filtering and there aren’t any aspects
A difficult definition – what markets are we speaking about?
In Google’s response, they spotlight Amazon and eBay as examples of websites which have grown throughout the time in query (regardless of Google’s alleged anti-competitive behaviour), and which provide a lot of the consumer advantage of comparability buying engines. The consumer expertise is clearly related, whereas the important thing distinction is that you may truly try and purchase on each websites. In some circumstances on Amazon, you’re shopping for instantly from Amazon – i.e. they’re additionally the retailer – and in many circumstances on each eBay and Amazon, they’re functioning as a market so that you enter your fee particulars on their web site, but you’re shopping for from a 3rd social gathering. This raises two troublesome and associated questions for me – questions which the EU has not answered to my satisfaction:
Must comparability buying engines ship customers off to a different web site in order to buy? If not, and Amazon and eBay are examples of comparability buying engines, then I believe the case is a lot tougher to make – definitely some CSEs have fared poorly throughout the time interval in query, but some (most notably Amazon) have thrived
If comparability buying engines are narrowly outlined, is it actually a separate “market”? The EU’s case depends on a discovering that Google is utilizing its dominance in one market (basic search) to crush competitors in one other market. I’m not even satisfied that “product search” is truly a separate market to “general search” (I’m inclined to suppose customers see the whole lot they do from the primary Google search field as one factor), but for those who outline comparability buying so narrowly that it’s a distinct market to each “search” and “searchable marketplaces” (or no matter you label Amazon and eBay as) then the sub-divisions cease making sense to customers in my opinion
Going even additional down this rabbit-hole, I’d like to have an skilled (a contest lawyer?) clarify to me how the markets are delineated and the place these totally different options/companies fall – all of which fulfill a number of the similar consumer intent:
Product comparability engines (aspects, filters, and many others)
Visual search (e.g. Pinterest)
Product advice websites (e.g. The Wirecutter)
The simple factors of settlement
I don’t suppose it is exhausting to make the case that Google meets the factors to be thought-about a monopoly in “search” (virtually any method you outline it) in Europe. Google themselves make primarily no effort to rebut this, so let’s enable this strut of the EU’s argument.
Google has a comparability buying engine – in the type of Google Shopping (beforehand Google Product Search and initially Froogle). You can see this in motion by going to the “Shopping” tab at google.co.uk and looking for a product (the instance in Google’s personal publish is [puma shoes]). You then get the chance to check merchandise by a variety of metrics and aspects, with the hyperlinks going out to locations to purchase the person merchandise (retailers, producers, manufacturers).
The issues with the EU’s case
In addition to the definitional downside I highlighted above (and that Google presses on closely in their response), I believe there is one other downside with the EU’s case in the precise market of buying (observe that the last word EU case is a lot broader and covers many different verticals – extra on that under).
The EU’s final discovering is:
Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by selling its personal comparability buying service in its search outcomes, and demoting these of opponents — Commissioner Margrethe Vestager
I’ve points with each elements of that:
Where does Google promote “its own comparison shopping service in its search results”?
You is not going to discover Google Shopping pages rating in Google’s natural search outcomes. Nor will you discover hyperlinks to Google Shopping in paid search hyperlinks. There is just one hyperlink to Google’s personal CSE on any of their search outcomes web page – on buying queries it is right here:
And on different searches it is in the “more” menu:
Now, it’s doable that even this stage of cross-promotion (merely linking to the Google Shopping product from their menu) is an excessive amount of, and perhaps they need to take away it (see under) but this is too small to warrant the large positive in my opinion. (There is truly yet one more method of getting there – for those who click on the right-arrow by the PLAs a number of instances to scroll by means of all of the merchandise on supply, you ultimately get to a hyperlink that takes you to the Google Shopping outcomes web page. I’m keen to wager that the proportion of people that truly do that is miniscule and Google may take away it with primarily no impression on Google Shopping).
I consider the EU has an issue with the person merchandise listed on the prime of the search outcomes in the primary picture above – but that is very clearly not comparability buying performance (it is similar to the hyperlinks to particular person merchandise in the natural outcomes under) – it’s merely what paid search appears like on industrial product queries. It is additionally very clearly not hyperlinks to Google’s personal CSE – these hyperlinks exit to retailers’ websites – to not Google Shopping. The knowledge comes from the identical supply – that is all.
“…abused its dominance…by demoting…competitors”
As I identified above, Google Shopping doesn’t seem anyplace in the natural search outcomes. To the extent that they deal with Google Shopping in a different way to a 3rd social gathering CSE, they deal with it worse – ciao.co.uk (one of many complainants does seem someplace in the natural outcomes, whereas Google Shopping seems nowhere). [In actuality, they really deal with it identically – if Ciao have been to dam Google’s crawlers the best way Google Shopping does, they’d additionally rank nowhere in the natural outcomes].
Given that not one of the natural outcomes are Google properties for any of those product queries, any “demoting” of a selected competitor entails the selling of one other. For each Ciao that loses rankings, there have to be a retailer, market, or different CSE that positive factors rankings.
This argument is problematic in different verticals – the place there are hyperlinks to Google properties in the search outcomes, and people hyperlinks do push down hyperlinks to opponents – but it holds robust in comparability buying so far as I can see.
The opponents are objectively poor in comparability buying
If you rule marketplaces and retailers like eBay and Amazon out of the “comparison shopping engine” market, then the overall high quality of those websites is low. The complainants in specific – foundem.co.uk and ciao.co.uk are each very a lot worse consumer experiences than both common Google search or Google Shopping. This SearchEngineLand article breaks Foundem down properly, whereas Ciao is nonetheless on-line and you’ll go and see for your self:
Slow loading, intrusive irrelevant banner promoting, damaged hyperlinks, lacking photographs, and irrelevant evaluations:
“Advantages: Great worth, good high quality, helpful pockets” — assessment on the Puma footwear outcomes web page (emphasis mine).
I do know that EU competitors regulation focuses on the impression on opponents moderately than the impression on customers as US competitors regulation does, but we must also step again a second and have a look at the truth that these websites complaining about unfair remedy are objectively worse than Google’s providing.
[Note that this is not the case in other verticals – travel and financial services, in particular, are sticky areas for Google – see below.]
A ballsy response from Google
I hesitate to say that this might be my advisable plan of action if I have been advising Google, but a course I’d like to see them take is as follows:
Leave PLAs as they’re – if comparability buying is a separate market to “general search” in which Google has a monopoly, then PLAs positively fall in the overall search half moderately than the comparability buying half. They are built-in into the outcomes a searcher receives after they carry out a search that begins on the Google homepage, and there is no comparability performance – it merely hyperlinks to merchandise
Remove the buying hyperlink in the highest menu – this is the one space I can see that they’ve favoured their comparability buying engine (Google Shopping) over others (e.g. ciao.co.uk – one of many complainants) who can not get their homepage linked from the highest menu
Open up Google Shopping pages to their very own search index – i.e. allow pages just like the consequence you discover if you search [Puma shoes] on the Google Shopping tab to be listed and seem in the common natural search outcomes (to be clear, this doesn’t occur for the time being – Google retains these pages explicitly out of the primary search index). Doing this can enhance competitors in the overall search outcomes for the complainants, but it clarifies that Google is treating their comparability buying engine (Google Shopping) precisely on a stage taking part in discipline with opponents equivalent to ciao.co.uk and paves the best way for them to deal with (all) comparability buying engines as harshly as they like in common search [I’m not the first to think of this – see Danny Sullivan’s excellent article from the beginning of this case]
The actuality: this is actually dangerous for Google
The EU has began with what I believe is the weakest of the verticals, and I believe there are robust arguments that Google has not abused their market energy in the precise methods this case claims.
But the EU has dominated towards Google. In the weakest case towards them there is.
The EU has proven right here that they’re ready to take motion to defend companies providing worse consumer experiences towards built-in adjustments Google makes to their core search engine. Shopping is an debatable case, but there are lots of extra verticals the place this precedent opens the best way for future giant fines:
If the EU insists on treating every of those verticals the identical method they’ve handled buying, then Google is going through many big fines – fairly other than the AdSense and Android circumstances (every of which could possibly be a giant deal in its personal proper). If the EU is ready to take a lower-quality competitor in every case and say competitiveness has been harmed by Google’s inclusion of an amazing consumer expertise instantly in the overall search outcomes, then every of those is not less than as egregious because the comparability buying case.
Even worse for Google, a few of these different opponents usually are not lower-quality. In journey and monetary merchandise, in specific, there are some spectacularly good websites providing nice UX. The defence in these areas is not going to be as simple for Google.
What does actual regulation of Google seem like?
The case for some elevated regulation of Google (and different tech giants) is rising. I lately wrote one other article breaking down my objections to a New York Times article calling for a break-up.
I definitely don’t have all of the solutions, but I did get drawn right into a little bit of hypothesis about what I assumed efficient regulation may seem like in the feedback on that publish. To be clear, I don’t anticipate to see an unbundling, but I used to be to see the identical thought experiment utilized to Amazon the opposite day.
For extra on the topic, I like to recommend this week’s public Stratechery article and the opposite articles linked from it. Stratechery stays my prime paywalled advice – simply definitely worth the $100 / yr in my opinion.
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