With the Federal Trade Commission and European Commission nearing the end of investigations into Google’s anti-competitive practices, it is important to emphasize that requiring the fair and unbiased display of search results on Google is a key desired outcome.
The FTC and EC are investigating the lawfulness of many of Google’s practices, including unfair treatment of advertising partners through exclusive deals and technical barriers to using other platforms, using its dominance to coercively scrape content from other sites, and the search giant’s use of its dominant position in mobile search and advertising to stifle competition. Google controls more than 79 percent of the U.S. search market (and 97 percent of search on mobile).
Google abuses this dominance by promoting its own products and services over competitors in the display of search results, and by driving up advertising costs through an opaque system of quality scores and minimum bid prices for online ads, as well as changes to its search algorithm that have tremendous effects on the Internet traffic to websites of all companies across the Internet, without any ability of those small businesses and innovators to get a credible answer as to why they were demoted. These abuses hurt small businesses, innovators and limit consumer choice while driving up the price of everything sold by a business that uses the Internet – large and small, technology-oriented or not.
Google’s manipulation of the display of search results and ad prices to boost its bottom line are among the search giant’s most harmful practices. We urge top decision-makers at the FTC and the EC to look closely at how to address these harms through strong remedies that are truly meaningful and enforceable in restoring true competition.
With Google devoting so much real estate to its products and paid advertising links, consumers aren’t provided the best and most objective natural search results they have come to expect. And small businesses who can’t pony up the money for Google ads have seen massive decreases in traffic from natural search results, thereby undermining their ability to drive traffic and revenue from the Internet that they can re-invest in innovation and jobs.
Given these competitive and consumer harms it is imperative that the worldwide investigations of Google lead to a comprehensive solution that restores competition and resolves the conflict of interest inherent at the core of Google’s business of selling ads for other sites and directing consumers back to its own services.
If these investigations fall short in forcing an end to Google’s biased display of search result, the search giant will only be emboldened to devote more of its results pages to its own products and to steer users away from competing products, and it will become more costly and difficult for businesses to reach consumers on the Internet without paying artificially high prices to Google for access to its dominant search engine.
Quite frankly, the time for Fair Search is now.