A formal investigation into Google’s operations has been launched by the European Commission, sparked by complaints that it has been deliberately lowering the ranking of rival sites in its search results.
The EC announced today that it will launch the investigation which is to be the first of its kind in the world, and a case which could take years to be decided. The outcome could see Google strapped with billions of euros in fines and strict business practice regulations.
The probe has been triggered by complaints by three companies, including small British comparison site Foundem who claimed they had been banished from search results for three years until the site was re-listed in 2009, after repeated lobbying.
The complainant companies noted that when offering similar services such as price comparison, Google ranks its own links higher on sponsored search results.
Comparison site Ciao, owned by rival Microsoft, joins Foundem in complaints that their services appear too low on general search results. Microsoft itself has suffered fines from the EC of more than €1bn for monopoly practices.
In response, Google maintained that there were “compelling reasons” why the sites in question had been ranked poorly by the search engine’s algorithms. The company claimed Foundem duplicated 79% of its content from other sites, which webmasters are consistently informed will place sites as a disadvantage when ranked.