The Rs 135.86 crore fine that the Competition Commission of India (CCI) imposed upon Google for abusing “its dominant position in online general web search and web search advertising services in India” is too little, said the law firm that represented one of the complainants before the fair trade regulator.
“The penalty levied by the CCI, as a percentage of Google’s turnover is welcome at five per cent. However, the actual amount, a mere Rs. 135.86 crores, is a surprise,” said Naval Satarawala Chopra of Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co which represented Matrimony.com, a popular matrimonial website.
The CCI verdict on Thursday came in response to complaints filed by Matrimony.com and Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), a consumer organisation in 2012. “In fact, the CCI has expressed dismay at the way in which Google provided its turnover figure which raises questions on its veracity,” Chopra said.
CCI said it imposed the fine after taking into account Google’s revenue from its India operations only. “The CCI’s order is a shot in the arm for the Digital India initiative and will encourage the Indian internet ecosystem in particular online start-ups.
This order is significant as the CCI recognises that Google is the gatekeeper to the internet and has a special responsibility to ensure a level playing field,” Murugavel Janakiraman, Founder and CEO, Matrimony.com, told IANS.
“This order needs to be a wakeup call for all other players in the digital and mobile ecosystems who are using innovative methodologies to engage in abuse of dominant position in market places,” said Pavan Duggal, a Supreme Court advocate and cyber law expert.
The CCI found Google abusing its dominance in three ways – first, placement of “Universal Results” before 2010 were pre-determined by Google and not based on relevance, which was unfair to the users. It said that the prominent display and placement of commercial Flight Unit with link to Google’s specialised Flight search service was unfair imposition and deprived users of additional choices.
Google Flights offers travellers the ability to quickly explore destinations and find the best flights at affordable prices. The Flights Unit offers information about flights on Google’s general Search results pages. Thirdly, the CCI said that the prohibitions imposed on publishers under the negotiated search intermediation agreements were found to be unfair for restricting their choice of partners.
The CCI also observed in its order that Google was leveraging its dominance in the market for online general web search to strengthen its position in the market for online syndicate search services. “The competitors were denied access to the online search syndication services market due to such a conduct,” CCI said in a statement.
“Google, being the gateway to the internet for a vast majority of internet users due to its dominance in the online web search market, is under an obligation to discharge its special responsibility,” the fair trade regulator said.
“Google is an innovative company which offers pioneering products. However, our contention is to ensure that Google does not abuse its scale and other advantages to the detriment to the Indian Internet ecosystem and ultimately customers,” Janakiraman said. “We’re still fighting the case against Google to prevent abuse of trademark,” he added.
Reacting to the CCI order, a Google spokesperson on Thursday said that it was reviewing the “narrow concerns” identified by the Commission and would assess its next steps. “We have always focused on innovating to support the evolving needs of our users. The Competition Commission of India has confirmed that, on the majority of issues it examined, our conduct complies with Indian competition laws,” the spokesperson said.
This is, however, not the first time Google was fined for abuse of its dominance in the search engine market. In June 2017, the European Union slapped the technology giant with a record fine of 2.42 billion euros for breaching antitrust rules by abusing the monopoly it enjoys over Internet search.
“Google has abused its market dominance as a search engine by giving an illegal advantage to another Google product, its comparison shopping service,” the European Commission said in a statement issued at the time of announcing its order.