While Google continues facing multiple antitrust probes at the European level, the company will be cheered today by a U.K. High Court decision that has ruled in its favor on a specific anticompetitive complaint.
The case in question was filed by UK mapping company Streetmap back in 2013, which accused Google of abusing a dominant position to promote its mapping service within search results — thereby having a knock-on effect on traffic to Streetmap’s own service. The complaint relates to Google launching Maps in the UK back in 2007.
Streetmap, a very early mover in the online mapping space, said Google’s Maps launch decimated traffic to its rival mapping website. Its argument was that the inclusion by Google of a map at the top of search results displaying results from Google Maps promoted Google’s own maps more favorably than rivals — hence the claim of anticompetitive behavior.
A similar argument regarding Google’s search comparison service is currently being examined by the EU antitrust commissioner. The EC issued a formal Statement of Objections regarding the operation of Google Shopping in April last year. It is also taking a closer look at Google’s Android mobile OS to investigate antitrust complaints.
However the judge in the UK case has now dismissed Streetmap’s argument, ruling that the inclusion of the Google Maps box at the top of search results was “not reasonably likely appreciably to affect competition in the market for online maps” and that Google’s conduct was “objectively justified” (via The Guardian).
Streetmap, while an early innovator in the domestic mapping space, clearly could not match the level of resources Google was able to pour into its mapping product. So, placement issues aside, there was also a mismatch in the overall product quality — which also inevitably incentivizes users to choose one over the other. (Although, of course, if people don’t encounter your product in the first place because it is being demoted in search results that’s going to have an impact, too…)
Streetmap said it intends to appeal the High Court ruling but there’s no doubt it’s a hefty blow to its hopes. Commenting on the judgement, Google said: “The court made clear that we’re focused on improving the quality of our search results. This decision promotes innovation.”
Streetmap said its appeal will focus on two points: firstly that the standard of proof being demanded of small businesses wanting to prove anticompetitive behavior is too high, given they are being asked to supply information they do not have — because it is held by the dominant company.
And secondly on the issue of non-compliance with legal obligations. It notes that the trial showed Google had not done a UK market test prior to introducing Google Maps, thereby suggesting the company was shirking its duty to comply with UK law.
Streetmap is one of several mapping companies reported to be on the list of complainants associated with the EU’s formal antitrust charges against Google. Although it is unclear whether the UK High Court decision will have any bearing on the European level antitrust case against Google. The two legal regimes are frequently at odds.