Following accusations from news publishers that Google is “abusing” its dominance in news aggregation to impose unfair terms on the outlets, India’s antitrust watchdog has launched an investigation into the search giant.
The Competition Commission of India said Friday that Google dominates certain online services and that its initial assessment is that the company has broken local antitrust laws. The commission cited new rules in France and Australia, where Google has been asked to enter into “fair/good faith negotiations” with news publishers for paid content licencing to address a “bargaining power imbalance between the two and the resultant imposition of unfair conditions by Google.”
“When the informant’s charges are considered in the context of Google’s vertically integrated ecosystem, it appears that news publishers have little choice but to accept Google’s terms and conditions.” On the one hand, Google appears to act as a conduit between diverse news publishers and news consumers on the other. Another option for the news publisher is to forego Google’s traffic, which would be detrimental to their revenue generating,” the CCI stated in its 21-page order.
The investigation stems from a complaint filed by the Digital News Publishers Association, which represents the digital divisions of some of India’s largest media companies. According to the group, more than half of their traffic comes from online search engines, a category that Google obviously dominates, and Google’s market dominance has allowed it to coerce publishers into various onerous terms.
The association claimed that Google’s display of snippets of news items reduces the number of visitors to news outlets and has an impact on ad revenue “while Google continues[s] to earn ad revenue on its result page,” as well as enriches “its search algorithm resulting from the volume of search queries” in a broad complaint.
“It has also been alleged that the OPs unilaterally and arbitrarily dictate the terms of the agreements entered between the members of the Informant [news publishers] and the OPs [Google and its subsidiaries] for sharing the advertisement revenues, and the members of the Informant have no other option but to accept the terms as they are, with no bargaining power whatsoever,” the watchdog said.
“The only alternative to the AMP system is for publishers to subscribe with Google, which enriches Google at the expense of publishers,” according to the watchdog.
The group claims that Google is pressuring them to embrace its AMP format, which has a negative impact on their revenue.
A request for comment was not returned by a Google official.
“The critical role of news media in a well-functioning democracy cannot be understated,” the watchdog added, “and it must be ensured that digital gatekeeper firms do not abuse their dominant position to harm the competitive process of determining a fair distribution of revenue among all stakeholders.”
The investigation launched on Friday is the latest in a string of inquiries launched by India’s competition commission in recent weeks. The CCI requested a probe into how Apple handles its App Store late last year, making it the latest country to take aim at the American tech giant.
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