November 28, 2019 / 8:43 AM / 6 months ago

Shopping rivals urge EU to act against Google for allegedly favouring own service

BRUSSELS, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Forty-one European price-comparison shopping services on Thursday urged EU antitrust regulators to act against Alphabet Inc's Google for allegedly flouting an order to allow rivals to compete on equal terms, which they said is endangering their existence.

This is the first time that such a big group of companies has teamed up to call on European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to take further action against Google.

The companies, in a joint letter to Vestager seen by Reuters, said that Google, the world's most popular internet search engine, has yet to comply with a 2017 order to stop favouring its own price comparison shopping service. Google was also fined 2.4 billion euros at the time.

The signatories to the letter are from 21 EU countries, including Idealo, Europe's second largest price comparison shopping service and part of publishing group Axel Springer , Polish No. 1 Ceneo, Britain's Kelkoo, and Foundem and Heureka in the Czech Republic.

"We are approaching you (Vestager) because companies like ours are endangered by Google, which is artfully avoiding compliance with the law," the companies (CSS) said.

They said Google's proposal to allow competitors to bid for advertising space at the top of a search page has not boosted traffic to their sites.

"As a result, more and more CSSs have been or will be forced by Google to exit the market," the companies said.

The letter did not mention any specific remedies sought by the companies.

Some 600 companies now take part in the auctions for search page advertising space, Google senior executive Oliver Bethell told an Informa conference earlier this week, citing it as proof that the auctions have boosted competition.

"Since Google ranks and displays its shopping unit more favourably than competing CSSs in its search pages, the identified abuse has never been terminated," the companies said, citing a Grant Thornton study which showed higher prices on Google's shopping unit compared to those on rival sites.

Most of the signatories are voicing their frustrations for the first time, said Thomas Hoppner, lawyer for Idealo.

"The letter demonstrates a united front of genuine comparison shopping services against Google's attempt to present measures as a "compliance mechanism" that actually make matters worse for its competitors," he said.

Earlier this month, Vestager voiced concerns about the lack of significant traffic to Google's competitors.

$1 = 0.9073 euros Reporting by Foo Yun Chee Editing by Leslie Adler

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