Google changes shopping search to soothe EU antitrust concerns

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Google made changes to its shopping service on Thursday in a bid to answer complaints of abuse that earned it a record €2.4bn antitrust fine from the EU.

The search giant has ringfenced its European shopping business to run arm’s length auctions for product ads that are open to both rivals and its own service. Giving rivals “equal treatment” was required by the European Commission’s decision in June that fined Google for abusing its dominance in search by giving preference to its own shopping service.

The regulator is the first major antitrust watchdog to make Google change its services, although Thursday’s relaunch was welcomed with little fanfare. Only a handful of Europe’s near 300 price comparison sites have joined the new auction — a solution that will “destroy the industry”, according to one rival.

Many competitors had hoped Google would reverse a 2011 change to its search algorithm that had relegated them to the fourth page of search results. They allege the new fix is worse than commitments rejected in 2014, which had guaranteed rivals a set number of ads in the shopping box.

Brussels’ view will not be clear for months. “It is for Google to show that they live up to the decision,” said Margrethe Vestager, European competition commissioner. “This issue will remain on our desks for some time.”

The EU took note of the solution and said it would be closely monitoring it with the “benefit of economic and accounting expertise from KPMG and input from Mavens, who are specialists in search engine optimisation and marketing”.

However, rivals worry that is too slow a pace. Richard Stables, chief executive of comparison website Kelkoo, said it would be “pretty clear [if the solution was working] in about six to eight weeks”.

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