• Pablo Fernández

India Opens Probe Into Google After Publishers Complain


This article was originally published by Matthew Broersma.


India’s competition regulator launches investigation into Google’s market power following complaint by country’s digital news media.


India’s competition regulator has ordered an investigation into Google after complaints by news publishers, who say the tech company is abusing its dominance in news aggregation to impose unfair conditions on them.

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) said the search giant dominates certain online services and its initial view is that Google has broken local antitrust laws. The agency pointed to new rules in France and Australia, where Google has been asked to enter into negotiations with news publishers for content licensing deals collectively worth billions of dollars.

The CCI noted that such deals are designed to address the “bargaining power imbalance between the two and the resultant imposition of unfair conditions by Google”.


Bargaining power

“The allegations of the informant, when seen in this vertically integrated ecosystem operated by Google, makes it prima facie appear that news publishers have no choice but to accept the terms and conditions imposed by Google,” the regulator said in its 21-page order.

“Google appears to operate as a gateway between various news publishers on the one hand and news readers on the other.


“Another alternative for the news publisher is to forego the traffic generated by Google for them, which would be unfavourable to their revenue generation.”

The probe follows a complaint by the Digital News Publishers Association, which represents the digital arms of some of India’s largest media firms.


The association said its members derive more than half of their traffic from online search engines, a category dominated by Google.


‘Digital gatekeeper’

That dominance has allowed the search and advertising company to force publishers into unfavourable terms, they said.


The association said the search giant displaying snippets of their news items limits the number of visitors to the outlets and diminishes advertising revenues “while Google continue[s] to earn ad revenue on its result page” while enriching “its search algorithm resulting from the volume of search queries”.


The terms of agreements between news publishers and the search company for sharing advertising revenues are “unilaterally and arbitrarily dictated” by Google, with publishers having “no other option but to accept” them and having “no bargaining power whatsoever”, the CCI said. The association said publishers are effectively forced to use Google’s AMP page format, which has further implications for their revenues.


“In a well-functioning democracy, the critical role played by news media cannot be undermined, and it needs to be ensured that digital gatekeeper firms do not abuse their dominant position to harm the competitive process of determining a fair distribution of revenue amongst all stakeholders,” the CCI added.


Regulation

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Google probe is the latest of a series of investigations ordered by the CCI in recent weeks.


Late last year it launched a probe into how Apple runs its App Store, becoming the most recent regulator to take aim at the iPhone maker. The European Parliament last month approved the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act, which are designed to rein in the market power of large tech companies such as Amazon, Apple, Meta/Facebook and Google.

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