The push of vertical services
Allowing Google to define its field of competitors, then charge them for the privilege of competing, it will be extremely difficult for new entrants to the vertical search market. No matter how relevant their services are to consumers’ queries, for them to compete against Google and its main rivals they will require the financial means to compete in the auction mechanism.
In his answer to Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Springer, published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 13 May, Vice-President Almunia wrote it is the role of the EU’s competition watchdog “to fight abuses in the best interests of consumers rather than competitors”. Whether the Commission’s antitrust investigation removes what Mathias Döpfner calls the “fear” of the search giant’s competitors, remains to be seen. However, fighting market abuse in the interest of consumers looks very different.
A couple of years ago, the Commission launched a competition investigation against tech giant Microsoft, because it offered users its Windows operating system and company-owned Internet Explorer. The similarities of the Google case with that of Microsoft Internet Explorer are as disturbing as they are remarkable. With Microsoft, the dominance in desktop operating systems was abused to push Internet Explorer; with Google the dominance in the online search is being used to push vertical services. But here is where the similarities end. The handling of the case by the European Commission is diametrically different – the Commission obliged Microsoft to change its business model and treat competing browsers in a non-discriminatory way. We see no rationale to taking a different approach with Google.
The competences of the Commission as competition guardians are comprehensive. Not using them to the benefit of consumers would be negligent.