Search outfit argues Panda key to Google antitrust case


Product search site Foundem has claimed that Google is directly targeting household name search sites through Google Panda, the algorithm it says is central to ongoing antitrust cases.

Foundem kicked off the European Commission antitrust investigation against Google after they saw their site drop down the page rankings following the introduction of Universal Search in 2007.

Since Foundem first presented the case against Google, an official investigation has begun on both sides of the Atlantic.  This has centred around Google’s leveraging of its search engine dominance, 95 percent of the market in Europe, to favour its lucrative forays into maps, product search and more.

Now, with a high profile investigation also underway by the Federal Trade Commission in the US, Foundem believes that Google is on the verge of facing retribution from both sets of watchdogs after flouting anticompetitive laws with Panda.

TechEye spoke to the owners of Foundem, Shivaun and Adam Raff, who have been putting the case for Google’s abuse of its dominant position to both the EC and the Federal Trade Commission.

The pair believe that the search giant has upped its attack on rival sites in the face of anticomptetitive claims through the use of the Panda update to its search algorithm.

“Google Panda has struck a lot of very legitimate household names and established vertical search brands, and has done this in the face of antitrust investigations,” TechEye heard.

“Not many people have linked Panda and antitrust cases on each side of the Atlantic.  But Panda is not just relevant to the investigations, it is core to the investigations.  You could see this coming.

“With Panda the dial has been turned up to 11 in terms of necessity of fixing this.  So we hope the EC comes to a decision soon, and we do get the sense that the Commission understands the urgency of these issues.

Foundem believes Google is up for more than a wrap on the knuckles: “We are very confident that the EC will find Google guilty of abusing its dominant position in search and search advertising.”

Foundem does have some compelling data, which aims to show that Google has abused its position when it moved into product search.  Google boss Schmidt was called before the Senate in September to discuss antitrust allegations, and it is Foundem’s research that was used to illustrate the dominance of Google’s product search. 

In this video Schmidt can be seen squirming under questioning regarding Google using its search dominance to prioritise its own product searches on a page.  

Foundem’s owners are confident that measures will crop up to rein in attempts a world of ‘Google Everything’.

They believe Google must be stopped from sending rival companies spiralling down search rankings.

“In our complaint is included a set of very simple remedies that would seriously mitigate a lot of the damage caused,” Foundem told TechEye. 

“Google needs to clearly and conspicuously disclose when it inserts its own services into its search results.  It also needs to stop discriminating in favour of its own services.  Universal Search uses different ranking algorithms to insert its own services than it does for ranking everyone else.

“It needs to put those two sets of algorithms on a level playing field.” 

However, the Raffs do not think a ten percent fine from the EC is the best course of action. The money won’t matter.

“A ten percent fine is not significant to us or Google,” they argue. “What is really important to the thousands of innovative businesses being crushed by Google’s tactics is a set of remedies that stop its anticompetitive behaviour.”

Others too have come forward with complaints against Google, with French search site Twenga the latest to approach the EC, though Foundem’s owners believe that many are anxious about taking on the search giant’s might. 

This is perhaps understandable given the vast resources available to Google, with the likes of Foundem having to struggle to keep up the fight against the multi-billion dollar firm.

“People are understandably reluctant to put their head above the parapet,” Foundem told us.  “It would have been nice at the beginning to have more involved but it is not necessary now as things have advanced so far.

“But we have had discussions with other companies and they do indeed share our views.”

One which has come forward is Microsoft-owned Ciao, as well as Microsoft sponsored trade organisation ICOMP which has recently lobbied for a decision against Google.  This has led to raised eyebrows in the past over Microsoft’s level of involvement in other complaints.

Considering the search rivalry between Microsoft and Google, aligning with Microsoft, itself no stranger to antitrust cases, is inevitably going to draw attention.  

Unsurprisingly this is a topic which Foundem’s owners were cagey about when we broached the subject.  They are vehement in asserting that there has been no involvement from Microsoft, and believe that Google has benefited massively from a campaign of misinformation about Microsoft backing.

It may make a convenient headline to bill the antitrust case as a Microsoft versus Google feud, they say, but Foundem’s owners are adamant that this is baseless and detracts from a legitimate debate.

“Google has been very successful at diverting attention,” the Raffs suggest. “The danger is that it causes confusion, and that it turns into Coke versus Pepsi, or Microsoft versus Google rather than a proper debate.

“We are members of ICOMP but we would make it very clear that all of our actions are entirely independent: with the sole exception of our original Complaint to the EU, for which we received some legal assistance from ICOMP’s legal counsel. Every slide in our presentation, every step in our strategy, and every sentence in our documents are conceived and delivered entirely by us.

“Foundem’s Google penalties, and its ensuing campaign to have them overturned, started two and a half years before Foundem had even heard about ICOMP.”

Foundem hopes that the EC and the FTC, which is likely to make a ruling after Europe, will not let Google off the hook.

“If Google’s anticompetitive practices are not curbed it would be a complete disaster for the internet, for all businesses, and for all users of the internet,” Foundem suggests to us.

“The stakeholders involved in this case are pretty much anyone, when you consider how many people use Google. 

“How many people assume that they are getting unbiased and comprehensive search results?” 

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