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CCI imposes Rs 135-crore penalty on Google

The CCI said Google through its search design placed its commercial flight unit at a prominent position on SERP and has also allocated disproportionate real estate to such units to the disadvantage of verticals trying to gain market access

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has imposed a penalty of Rs 135.86 crore on Google, finding it abusing its dominant position in online general web search and web search advertising services in India.

The penalty amount was decided after taking into account its revenue from its India operations only. The order was passed in response to a complaint filed by Matrimony.com Limited and Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) in 2012.

The CCI in its order noted that the allegations against Google in respect of search results essentially centred round the design of the Search Engine Result Page (SERP). Exhibiting a self-imposed regulatory forbearance from scrutinising product designs in ascertaining anti-trust violations, the CCI noted in its order that product design is an important and integral dimension of competition and that undue intervention in designs of SERP can affect legitimate product improvements. The CCI observed that 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.

In this backdrop, the CCI found prominent display of commercial flight unit by Google on the SERP with link to Google’s specialised search options/ services (flight) in contravention of the provisions of Section 4(2)(a)(i) of the Act.

The CCI noted in its order that Google through its search design has not only placed its commercial flight unit at a prominent position on SERP, it has also allocated disproportionate real estate thereof to such units to the disadvantage of verticals trying to gain market access. Besides, it was also found that Google has provided a further link in such commercial units, which leads users to its specialised search result page (google flight), resulting in unfair imposition upon the users of general search services as well.

The CCI also noted in the order that the ranking of universal results prior to 2010 were pre-determined to trigger at the first, fourth or 10th position on the SERP instead of by their relevance. Such practice of Google was unfair to the users and was found to be in contravention of the provisions of Section 4(2)(a)(i) of the Act. However, the CCI noted in its order that since October 2010, Google has made display of such results on a free-floating basis. Accordingly, taking Google’s submission on record, CCI refrained from issuing any cease order and only directed Google to desist from such a practice in future.

Further, prohibitions imposed under the negotiated search intermediation agreements upon the publishers have been held to be unfair as they restricted the choice of these partners and prevented them from using the search services provided by competing search engines. Imposition of unfair conditions on such publishers by Google has been held to be in contravention of the provisions of Section 4(2)(a)(i) of the Act. The CCI has 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. However, CCI did not find any contravention in respect of Google’s specialised search design (OneBoxes), AdWords, online intermediation and distribution agreements.

The final order was passed by a majority of 4:2 with two members issuing a dissenting note. Public versions of the majority order and dissent note in Case Nos. 07 and 30 of 2012 have been uploaded on the website of CCI at www.cci.gov.in.

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Tags: CCI Google
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