This week’s biggest news in tech was the EU fining Google for its shopping comparison service
- to the tune of £2.1bn (more than double the previous record). The fine was larger than expected and on an aside I wonder if this slightly reduces the Brexit bill for the UK. 😂
Back to the fine though, the major reason for this is down to how Google displays its shopping comparison results within the search results. It is at the top and visually superior, whilst the competition is subjected to Google’s algorithms and demoted beyond the front page (which massively reduces visibility). This was eight years in the making though, and the competition is now long gone.
Clearly the two parties don’t agree on the outcome. Google’s stance that its shopping comparison service is similar to Amazon or eBay is rather technical at best and was dismissed by the EU. Worse for Google, it has been deemed a dominant company in search, which changes the rules Google has to play by.
Google has to find a fix in 90 days. Will they follow Microsoft’s lead when it was in similar circumstances and introduce an opt-in for its shopping comparison services similar to the browser opt-in Microsoft introduced. It will put a break in the user experience but hardly one that will stop people using Google. Who will they choose to list as an alternative though.
The bigger challenge is this ruling undermines Google’s overall search strategy. The same impact has been had with its News aggregation, its new Flights comparison service and even Google Images. Getty Images has already filed an anti-trust suit against Google. I suspect there must be a few former Microsoft lawyers coming out of retirement and working with Google.
Rolling out a long list of interruptive opt-ins across all these products isn’t going to work from a user experience perspective.
I can see only two options. First, the ability to swap modules in and out of Google Search results, similar to Google’s personalised home page (iGoogle). The platform was discontinued in 2013. This would allow a user to pick which provider they wanted but would break Google’s business model and also make the user experience cumbersome.
Second, Google stops promoting its services at the top of search results and continues to place them as links in the menu and compete organically with the competition in the search results. This seems to make more sense (from Google’s perspective), but given its now massive presence in these markets, persuading the EU it shouldn’t be first in the results will be a challenge. Neither option is a better user experience though.
Taking a step back, search continues to increase in volume year on year but as a way of using the Internet, it is decreasing. The rise of mobile has meant increasing use of apps and social media rather than starting with Google. Next, the rise of Alexa and Google Home virtual assistants are only going to change things further. If Alexa continues to extend its lead in this space, in a decade we may see Amazon hauled up before the EU authorities.