After narrowly escaping antitrust penalties in the US a year ago, Google is now at the center of a massive legal battle in Europe.
Yelp has been the most recent company to join a case saying that Google is manipulating search results in favor of their own content, which hurts smaller businesses and stifles innovation. Now, leaked documents from conversations at Yelp seem to prove that this is happening to them.
According to the Yelp documents, they have concluded that while Google features like the Carousel and Knowledge Graph have not impacted Yelp’s overall traffic, they direct users away from other sources in order to utilize Google’s own tools and content. Google’s response is that features like Knowledge Graph provide searchers with the answers they want quicker and more easily.
Apart from monopoly allegations, it could be argued that businesses and websites like Yelp will have to accept what Google does because at the end of the day, they’re on Google’s property. The fact that Yelp and other websites are showing up on Google at all is something that could possibly be removed entirely. In fact, this has happened with many sites over the past few years either through algorithmic updates like Penguin and Panda, or through manual penalties that punish sites seen as trying to manipulate Google’s quality guidelines. From this perspective, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s fair or not because at the end of the day Google owns the domain, the search algorithm, and even the space on the page that a majority of people (usually) actively choose to use.
Again, the rub seems to be monopoly. Even if people have an alternative, those alternatives may not be totally comparable, making Google a very unfair place for businesses. You only need to talk to a business owner in a competitive industry to see that this is already a fairly common feeling.
In addition to the monopoly complaints, privacy has been a huge issue. A European court recently deciding against Google in a case commonly referred to as “right to be forgotten”, saying that the company must allow people to have search results tied to themselves removed if they wish. But that’s another post.