CCI orders fresh investigation against Google, clubs all complaints from news publishers
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In light of the complaints from various organizations against Google, the custodian of fair competition in India, the Competition Commission of India (CCI), has directed the DG to club together all the investigations. This directive came on the 6th of October after the News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA) raised allegations against the tech behemoth. Earlier this year, the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) and the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) filed similar allegations.
The nature of concerns raised in all the 3 complaints was similar, which revolves around how Google is using its dominant position in the market to engage in unfair practices. Some of the concerns raised by the complainants are:
While entering into an agreement with the tech giant, the members do not have any negotiating or bargaining power, as Google Search enjoys a 94% market share in the country.
The members are forced to share their news content with Google in order to prioritise their web links in the Search Engine Result Page (SERP) of Google.
Even though Google does not produce any news of their own, it has steadily increased its influence based on what the user sees first and providing them with curated news through its powerful algorithms.
The ‘snippets’ or ‘extracts’ that Google provides in Google Search and Google News, result in “zero-click searches”. The grievances mention that Google does not provide adequate compensation for the above.
The CCI has directs the DG office to club together these investigations. However, it cannot be denied that the dominant position of Google leaves the door open for malpractices and abuse of power, whether it has exercised them against the Informants or not. The reasons for this are multi-fold, as noticed in the CCI order:
Google is free to impose its terms and conditions on the members as its search engine is a monopoly in India.
As pointed out by the Digital News Publishers Association, Google does not provide any data/information on the revenue Google earns from the advertisements displayed on the webpages of the news websites. Google simply hands out an arbitrary amount as their revenue share to the concerned parties without any insight into how the amount was derived in the first place. This essentially points to a lack of transparency between the parties involved.
Also, as is the case with the “snippets” of news articles being presented as “Top Stories”, the agencies which published the article do not get any remuneration for it. Now Google, not even being a publisher of news, controls what the users get to see in their searches. This is a classic case of ‘free-riding’ and is never desirable in a place where fair competition is supposed to be promoted.
In addition to this, Google forces the members to use this service, which doesn’t allow the agencies to form direct relationships with the user, only allows for Google’s advertisement on the website and gives Google exclusive insights on user engagement and other data. This type of ‘forced’ negotiation leaves the members with lesser or no benefits and further extends Google’s dominance in the ecosystem.
The need of the hour is for a swift redressal of the issue by the CCI. The important aspect which needs to be kept in mind here is that the question is not whether Google is engaging in unfair practices or using its dominant position to extend its influence and power. The question is whether the environment is conducive to fair competition for all the parties involved and whether we would want to take necessary actions before it is too late.
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