Microsoft and Foundem are just two of the companies backing the position of ICOMP (The initiative for a Competitive Online Marketing place) who claim that Google have built their overwhelming monopoly in Europe via an “illegal network of agreements with partners across the IT sector”.
You can watch a detailed video from ICOMP but to summarise, they take issue with four key actions by Google:
- Exclusive deals – through a combination of search syndication (so the use of the Google search bar within other websites, such as news sites) and arrangements with browsers and toolbars that they would promote Google as the default search engine, Google were able to achieve a level of scale that would go onto to represent an insurmountable barrier to entry for other would-be competitors. Or in other words, the increased share of the market led to an increase in data which led to an improved user experience which led to an even greater audience which further attracted advertisers which could be invested in further scaling. This unrelenting and ever-accelerating virtuous circle, once underway, left all other search engines spectating as Google rapidly swamped markets across the globe, and nowhere more so than in Europe where it has a 99% share in some member states.
- iPhone search deal – Then, as smartphone technology emerged, Google ensured they achieved a similar grip on the mobile search market by signing an exclusive agreement with Apple that cemented them as the default search engine for the iPhone, which had the lions’ share of the smartphone market at the time.
- Elimination of verticals – while Google had the general search market sown up, they were yet to get their talons into each of the major verticals and consequently many comparison sites and market specific search engines were doing pretty well. A bit too well perhaps. So Google began to stamp out this threat by using their monopoly in the general search market to promote their own comparison products, such as Google Hotel Finder, which it places in the prime spot between the paid listings and top of the organic results.
- Android – and finally ICOMP claim that Google have used the issue of Android compatibility “as a club to make them do things we want”, Dan Morill, Google Android Open-Source & Compatibility Program Manager.
While I’m sure these findings don’t tell the whole story and Google will have a strong counter argument for every point, I must admit that I think ongoing scrutiny of Google’s monopoly is important. Search has become such a central part of our lives that to pass the control of the worlds’ knowledge over one organisation without ever challenging its techniques would be lazy and dangerous. I don’t see any of this making a serious dent on their existing position but it may just discourage Google from taking even more aggressive actions in the future.