Google On EU’s Anti-Competitive Claims: “Concerns Are Unfounded”

We’re a little over five years into the EU’s antitrust investigation of Google, and today’s back and forth is about Google Shopping results.

Back in April, Europe’s antitrust chief, Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, said:

Our preliminary view in the SO is that in its general Internet search results Google artificially favors its own comparison shopping service and that this constitutes an abuse. Our investigation so far shows that when a consumer enters a shopping related query in Google search engine Google’s shopping comparison is prominently displayed at the top of search results.

Google was given 10 weeks to reply to the Statement of Objections (SO), which it has. Clearly, the company doesn’t agree with the findings of the EU’s investigation and went through them piece by piece today in a blog post by Kent Walker, SVP & General Counsel at Google:

We’ve taken seriously the concerns in the European Commission’s Statement of Objections (SO) that our innovations are anti-competitive. The response we filed today shows why we believe those allegations are incorrect, and why we believe that Google increases choice for European consumers and offers valuable opportunities for businesses of all sizes.

The post goes on to flip the script when discussing the claims that Google was “diverting” traffic away from other shopping services and asks the EU what it should do instead: “…the SO doesn’t back up that claim, doesn’t counter the significant benefits to consumers and advertisers, and doesn’t provide a clear legal theory to connect its claims with its proposed remedy.”

[Asics Gel Cumulus]

We don’t think this format is anti-competitive.

This thing will probably go on for another five years, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Challenging companies like Google and making them explain how and why they’re doing certain things is good for consumers. While the company is going to be very cagey and careful since this is a legal battle, it is interesting to take a peek behind the kimono.

At the end of the day, Google’s defense when it comes to the EU’s claims of anti-competitive behavior will be that it behooves the company to make its products and search results the best they can be, because that’s ultimately what’s best for shopping sites, consumers and Google. The post ends flippantly:

We look forward to discussing our response and supporting evidence with the Commission, in the interest of promoting user choice and open competition.

Will the arguments hold up? We’ll see when the EU responds. Probably not, though.