CCI probing Google’s ‘dominance’ in news aggregation space

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The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has hit Google again, this time with a probe into the tech giant over allegedly “abusing its dominance” in news aggregation to impose unfair conditions on news publishers.

In a 21-page order over a complaint filed by the Digital News Publishers Association, the Indian watchdog said that Google has broken the local antitrust laws.

“The allegations of the informant, when seen in this vertically integrated ecosystem operated by Google, makes it prima facie appear that news publishers have no choice but to accept the terms and conditions imposed by Google,” the CCI said in its order on Friday.

“Google appears to operate as a gateway between various news publishers on the one hand and news readers on the other. Another alternative for the news publisher is to forgo the traffic generated by Google for them, which would be unfavourable to their revenue generation,” the watchdog said.

Google was yet to react to the CCI order.

In its order, the CCI mentioned new rules in France and Australia, where Google has been asked to enter into “fair/good faith negotiation” with news publishers.

In its complaint, the Digital News Publishers Association said that the market-leading position has allowed Google to force the publishers into several unfavourable terms.

The association said that a majority of the traffic on news websites comes from online search engines (more than 50 per cent), wherein Google is claimed to be the most dominant search engine.

The CCI said that in a well-functioning democracy: “the critical role played by news media cannot be undermined, and it needs to be ensured that digital gatekeeper firms do not abuse their dominant position to harm the competitive process of determining a fair distribution of revenue amongst all stakeholders”.

In a separate probe, the CCI told the Karnataka High Court this week that it may complete the ongoing anti-trust investigation into Google Play Store policies within 60 days.

Google said that it will cooperate with the CCI investigation and withdrew its writ petition, filed late last month in the Karnataka HC, asking for more time to reply to the anti-trust investigation by the CCI.

“We are pleased with the outcome of today’s hearing before the Karnataka High Court and welcome the CCI’s recognition that there is no need to proceed with ADIF’s request for interim orders, and that the CCI will instead focus on completing its ongoing factual investigation,” a Google spokesperson had said in a statement.

“As we have said previously, we will continue to cooperate with the CCI’s investigative process,” the company spokesperson added.

The plea for interim relief was filed by the Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF) in the CCI last October.

The CCI has also opened a probe into Apple App Store policies.

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