It seems that people have decided that now is a good time to attack Google in various ways. In October, the US Justice Department sued Google for allegedly violating antitrust laws. This month, ten US states sued Google, alleging anticompetitive behavior, followed by another 38 states, alleging that the company has created an illegal monopoly in online search and advertising. In November, 165 companies and industry bodies sent a letter to the EU complaining about Google and asking for tougher antitrust action. The EU has also released first drafts of its new Digital Services Act, and Digital Markets Act. One of the key elements of the new laws is tackling the power of leading online platforms like Google.
The EU has already taken steps towards that end. Back in 2018, the EU fined Google €4.34 billion for breaching antitrust rules. As part of its compliance with the EU’s demands, Google introduced a process whereby other search engines can bid to appear on a “choice screen“, which lets Android users pick the default search engine when they set up their smartphone. However, some rival search engines, like DuckDuckGo, were unhappy with the approach. At the end of October, DuckDuckGo, along with Ecosia, Lilo, Qwant and Seznam — search engines from Germany, France, France and the Czech Republic, respectively — sent an open letter to the European Commission on the subject:
We are companies operating search engines that compete against Google. As you know, we are deeply dissatisfied with the so-called remedy created by Google to address the adverse effects of its anticompetitive conduct in the Android case. We understand that Google regularly updates you regarding its pay-to-play auction, but it appears that you may not be receiving complete or accurate information.
We are writing to request a trilateral meeting with your office, ourselves, and Google, with the goal of establishing an effective preference menu. Our respective designees could work in advance to create a tight agenda for this meeting to ensure it is productive and collaborative.
Now one of those search engines — Seznam — has gone even further, reported here by Reuters:
Seznam.cz, the Czech Republic’s leading home-grown web search platform, said on Thursday it had claimed 9.072 billion crowns ($417 million) in damages from Google, alleging that the U.S. giant restricted competition.
What makes this move noteworthy is that Seznam bases its claim on the fact that the EU has already determined that Google had breached EU rules in this area. The complaint concerns the period 2011 to 2018, before the EU forced Google to adopt the choice screen. Seznam’s deputy chairman Pavel Zima, is quoted as saying: “we claim the compensation of damage that we have suffered while trying to distribute our applications and services via mobile devices with Android operation system”. According to Reuters, Seznam has sent the claim to Google with a 30-day deadline, and says that it is prepared to take civil legal action if necessary. We’ll see if it does, and how that works out.
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