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Google is hit with antitrust investigation in India

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India’s antitrust watchdog has ordered an investigation into Google, following antitrust complaints filed by news publishers alleging that the search giant abuses its dominance in the aggregation of news by imposing unfair conditions.

On Friday the Competition Commission of India said that it is its initial view that Google is violating antitrust laws, referencing new regulation in Australia and France where the tech giant was required to negotiate content licensing deals with news publishers, the focus being addressing the “bargaining power imbalance between the two and the resultant imposition of unfair conditions by Google.”

The CCi ordered the investigation following a complaint filed by the Digital News Publishers Association, which represents some of the largest news outlets in India.

The association claimed that its members get more than 50 of traffic from search engines, where Google dominates. Google’s search dominance places it at a position to impose unfair conditions on news publishers.

News publishers are especially concerned with the content snippets Google provides users. The association said that the snippets drive away traffic from news outlets, costing them ad revenue “while Google continue to earn ad revenue on its result page” and enhancing “its search algorithm resulting from the volume of search queries.”

In the 21-page document ordering the investigation, the CCI said: 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. 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 forgo the traffic generated by Google for them, which would be unfavorable to their revenue generation.”

It continued: “It has also been averred that 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 are unilaterally and arbitrarily dictated by the OPs, and the members of the Informant have no other option but to accept the terms, as they are, with no bargaining power whatsoever.

“The only alternate to the AMP system is for publishers to subscribe with Google, which benefits Google, to the detriment of the publishers.”

The CCI further argued: “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.”

Google is yet to comment on this story.

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