UPDATE: Nearly two months after the CCI passed its order, Reuters, quoting two sources, reported that Google had filed its appeal on Monday.
First, the news. On Thursday, India’s anti-trust regulator, the Competition Commission of India (CCI), issued an order which found Google to have abused its dominant position in “online general web search” and the “web search advertising business in India”. The regulator has imposed a penalty of Rs 135.8 crore ($21 million) which Google has to deposit within 60 days. Sources The Ken spoke with confirmed that Google will file an appeal with the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal against the order in the coming days.
Among the key contraventions, as stated by the CCI, was Google’s commercial Flight Unit feature launched in November 2015 in India. The Commission held that Google’s prominent display and placement of Google Flight “amounted to an unfair imposition upon users of search services as it deprives them of additional choices,” which it felt was a contravention of the Competition Act.
Simply put, Google has been placing its sponsored flights unit prominently on a search result page and providing disproportionate real estate to its unit. This would mean that other vertical travel sites like MakeMyTrip, Cleartrip or Yatra, which would otherwise be ranked as the first two-three links, would be pushed down in the pecking order, in favour of Google’s own specialised search service i.e. flights. Additionally, clicking on the flights unit, the Commission felt, would deprive these vertical sites of the search traffic that they would have originally received.
Officially, Google responded to the order with an emailed statement in which its spokesperson stated they were looking into the matter. “The Competition Commission of India has confirmed that, on the majority of issues it examined, our conduct complies with Indian competition laws. We are reviewing the narrow concerns identified by the Commission and will assess our next steps.”
Besides levying a monetary penalty, in a first, the CCI also directed Google to change its search display or search behaviour, considered to be one of its most sacrosanct products. It demanded that Google display a “disclaimer in the commercial flight unit box indicating clearly that the “search flights” link placed at the bottom leads to Google’s Flights page, and not the results aggregated by any other third party service provider so that users are not misled.”
The CCI order against Google is an important development. For starters, it comes at a time when large internet-led companies are facing a pushback from regulators across the world.