Google accused of breaking antitrust law in Canada

Steven Loeb · May 18, 2013 · Short URL:

Google has also been investigated by the EU, the United States and South Korea before

(Updated to reflect comment from the Canadian Competition Bureau and Google)

Google has found itself in a familiar situation: being accused by a federal agency of violating antitrust laws, this time in Canada.

Canada's Competition Bureau recently notified Google of its intentions to investigate the company's business practices in Canada, it was reported by the Financial Post on Friday.

Google has been informed that a formal inquiry is being opened, but no specific information, or documents, have been requested so far.

The exact nature of what the Canadian Competition Bureau will be investing is also unknown, but the agency calls itself "an independent law enforcement agency, ensures that Canadian businesses and consumers prosper in a competitive and innovative marketplace."

The types of anti-competitive activities investigated by the Bureau include: price fixing, bid-rigging, false or misleading representations, deceptive notice of winning a prize, abuse of dominant position, exclusive dealing, refusal to deal, pyramid schemes, deceptive telemarketing and deceptive marketing practices.

“We will work co-operatively with the Competition Bureau to answer any questions they may have,” Leslie Church, Google Canada’s head of communications and public affairs, said in a statement to VatorNews.

"By law, the Bureau is obliged to conduct its investigations confidentially. Therefore, we cannot confirm whether or not the Bureau has received any complaints on this subject. For the same reason, I am unable to confirm whether or not the Bureau has any investigations in this area," a spokeperson for the Canadian Competition Bureau told VatorNews.

Google's past antitrust violations

Google has found itself being investigated over accusations of violating antitrust law in multiple countries.

In November 2010, the European Union opened an investigation into Google, on charges of “unfavorable treatment of their services in Google’s unpaid and sponsored search results."

The European Commission received complaints from competing Internet search providers that Google has been placing their services lower in result rankings while giving preferential placing of its own. Additionally, the commission will investigate whether Google has prevented Internet companies from placing ads from Google competitors on their websites.

The complaints were brought forth by three companies: Foundem, a British price comparison service; Ciao, a Microsoft-owned German price comparison service; and eJustice, a French legal search service. 

The EU probe is still on-going, with the antitrust regulators just recently having given Google's rivals some more time to study its proposals to settle complaints, after the rivals complained that they were not being given enough time to formulate their responses.

There was also an antitrust investigation opened against Google in South Korea in 2011. The country's two largest search companies, NHN Corp. and Daum Corp., accused Google of prohibiting local phone carriers from embedding their search applications on Android devices.  

The prohibition is being explicitly stated as a condition in their marketing contracts, the companies charged, adding that those carriers who violate the condition face retribution by Google in the form of delayed certification for the use of its software.

This case is also still on-going, but a decision by South Korea's Fair Trade Commission is expected to come soon

And then there was the investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, which alleged that  "Google had manipulated its search algorithms to harm vertical websites and unfairly promote its own competing vertical properties, a practice commonly known as 'search bias.'"

The FTC put its focus on the introduction of “Universal Search," which prominently displays targeted Google properties in response to specific searches, to determine if  Google used it to eliminate competition.

Google was also accused of altering its search algorithms "to demote certain vertical websites in an effort to reduce or eliminate a nascent competitive threat."

The FTC and Google reached a settlement in January, in which Google agreed to give online advertisers "more flexibility to simultaneously manage ad campaigns on Google’s AdWords platform and on rival ad platforms."

The company also agreed to stop misappropriating online content from so-called 'vertical' websites that focus on specific categories such as shopping or travel for use in its own vertical offerings."

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