Yelp Throws Spanner Into Google EU Antitrust Settlement By Filing Formal Complaint

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Just as Google looked to be nearing the end of a long-running EU antitrust investigation, Yelp, which competes vertically with Mountain View in local search, has thrown a spanner in the works by filing a formal complaint. It was already a witness in the case, but via a letter to Europe’s Competition Commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, the U.S. company has thrown its full weight behind the complaint.

“I realised Yelp’s current state as a mere witness within the DG-COMP deliberations was inadequate,” writes Yelp CEO and co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman. “In order to truly advocate on behalf of the European digital startups, our voice needed to be granted some form of official standing. As such, I have directed our government affairs team to convert Yelp into an official complainant.”

This means Yelp joins other tech companies like Microsoft, as well as the consumer rights advocate the European Consumer Organisation, in a long list of complainants who believe Google is acting in anticompetitive ways in Europe — in Yelp’s case, because of the way Google gives priority to its own services in search results over those of competitors. Specifically, local search results, such as those relating to nearby restaurants.

“I truly fear the landscape for innovation in Europe is infertile, and this is a direct result of the abuses Google has undertaken with its dominant position,” adds Stoppelman.

In typical EU fashion, the antitrust case has been four years in the running and goes back nearly a decade, but in February it looked like it was finally coming to an end after Almunia gave the U.S.-based search giant the all-clear, paving the way for the EU to move forward on implementing a remedy whereby Google would allocate space on its search results page for the placement of third-party results — i.e. those from competitors — for things like local search results and results for other services that compete with Google’s sprawling product range.

This left many competitors unhappy, and has led to arguments over whether or not Google was offering up the right screen real-estate for competitors’ results — arguments about so-called blind spots have ensued — and now that Yelp has joined the complainant list officially, this antitrust case likely has plenty of legs yet.