10 Slides Debunking Google’s Antitrust Defense Of Its Shopping Comparison Service

0/10 Replay Gallery More Galleries

10 Slides Debunking Google’s Antitrust Defense Of Its Shopping Comparison Service

Europe stepped up its long running antitrust investigation into Google’s price comparison service, Google Shopping, this April by launching a formal statement of objections. Google responded to the charges of anti-competitive behavior in the online price comparison sector with a public rebuttal — via a blog post — which contained several charts purporting to illustrate how there’s “thriving” competition in the European price comparison sector. The blog was entitled The Search For Harm.

U.K. search comparison service Foundem, one of the long time complainants in the EU’s antitrust investigation into Google Shopping, has now published its own rebuttal of Mountain View’s arguments. Click through the gallery for the highlights of its deconstruction of Google’s claims.


The search for selective data

Foundem sets the scene for its take-down of Google’s public response to the EU’s statement of objections on Google Shopping, noting that Mountain View’s blog focused on a handful of charts…


Rogue traveller

… the first of which refers to the travel vertical. Which is not in the remit of the EU’s statement of objections. Misdirection much?

Also worth noting that Google only launched a travel service in Europe in March 2013 — so is a relative newbie in that vertical. As Foundem puts it, “most of the hard to competitors and consumers lies in the future”.


Ecommerce =/= price comparison

Another red herring that Foundem identifies within Google’s presentation of the data is its inclusion — in a graph showing “shopping sites in the U.K.” — of traffic to ecommerce sites such as Amazon, eBay and etsy. Again, the antitrust complaint is specifically focused on price comparison services, not ecommerce websites…


Where's the rest of the data?

After stripping out this irrelevant ecommerce traffic data, Foundem identifies another problem: why is the Google Shopping data so partial? Where is the data on Google’s own price comparison service for the past 6-8 years?

Given that Google has been playing in the space for donkeys’ years — back when it used to launch stuff with punning names — it’s a little odd that it only starts charting Google Shopping traffic in 2013. Google original Froogle price comparison service launched in 2002, but you’d never guess as much from Google’s graph… Turns out February/March 2013 is when it rebranded its shopping service from Google product Search to Google Shopping. But that’s hardly a reason to omit the earlier data.


Before and after

Foundem notes that “fortunately” it has been “commissioning and collating this type of ComScore data for years” — since its February 2010 updated complaint to the European Commission — so it is able to fill in Google’s blanks.

Et Voila, a mysterious hump appears in Google Shopping’s thin blue line…


Competitive landscape

Foundem also notes there are plenty of U.K. price comparison services that Google has simply omitted from the graph — such as shopping.com, ciao, Pricegrabber, Shopzilla and more — so it adds those in to flesh out what it reckons is a more accurate picture of Google’s impact on the competitive landscape.

There is certainly a general downward trajectory for traffic to the majority of these services, judging by Foundem’s additions. Whereas the rivals that Google chose to display in its graph were ones that buck the downward trend, such as Idealprice.co.uk.


Spot the Panda update

Back to the thin blue line, Foundem notes that the spike in traffic to Google’s U.K. price comparison service coincided with its Panda search page ranking update hitting the U.K. — suggesting the algorithmic tweaks Google made to search rankings ended up favoring its own shopping comparison service. And, judging by the prior slide, having a generally negative impact on traffic to rival comparison services.


Changing revenue model

But what about the visible decline in Google Shopping? The blue line spike turns into a sort of plateau and then declines — suggesting a drop in traffic, right? Well Foundem suggests this is not all its seems either — given Google changed the revenue model for how it monetizes its price comparison service at this time (February 2013).

So whereas before this point it had been seeking to drive traffic to links to its comparison service, it subsequently shifted to a pay-for-placement ads model with directly monetized listings appearing in search results. So, bottom line, Google no longer needed to drive so much traffic to Google Shopping — because ads derived from the service were being directly dropped into search results.


A picture of harm?

Foundem concludes its takedown of Google’s antitrust defense with a graph purporting to show how much of an increase in traffic Google’s Shopping service saw prior to the February 2013 business model change — and how traffic to rival services dropped over the same period. It’s worth noting that Foundem is doing some selective analysis itself here, being as it’s not including some of the better performing sites that Google was (such as Idealprice.co.uk). Nonetheless, the picture it paints is a very different one to Google’s claim of a “thriving” price comparison market.

We’ve reached out to Google for comment on Foundem’s criticisms of its presentation of the data and will update this story with any response. You can view Foundem’s presentation in full here.


More nonsense

It’s not the first time Google has been called out for making dubious assertions in its public defense of the EU antitrust claims either. In its blog post Google claimed that The Guardian newspaper gets “up to 85 per cent of their traffic directly” — a claim which was instantly debunked by the Guardian‘s audience editor, Chris Moran, as “nonsense”. Google subsequently posted an update to The Search for Harm, noting it had removed the references and was “sorry for the error”.