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Google accused of competition abuse in holiday rentals

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Google accused of competition abuse in holiday rentals

Thirty-four rivals say US company has unfairly promoted its own service

Google has been accused of unfairly promoting its own holiday rental search engine by more than 30 of its rivals, one of whom has filed an official complaint to the European Commission.

The accusation of more competition abuse by the US company comes in a week when it is set to appeal a €2.4bn antitrust fine before Europe’s second-highest court.

A letter to the EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, signed by 34 companies, including HomeToGo, TripAdvisor, Expedia and eDreams and seen by the FT, accuses Google of harming rivals by elevating its own holiday rental search box.

“We see strong indications of a competitive strategy for Google to reduce us and our industry to mere content providers for the ‘one-stop-shop’ of Google’s new product,” the letter said.

The websites claimed Google “features its new product in a visually-rich OneBox at the top of its general search results pages.

“Such favourable ranking and display secures Google’s service more user attention and clicks than any competing service may acquire, even if these are more relevant for the user’s search query,” it concluded.

Rivals have already accused Google of giving preferential treatment to a host of its own services, including searches for shopping, flights, hotels, and jobs. The EU has fined the search engine a total of €8.2bn for illegally promoting its own businesses above others on its platform.

The company is also being investigated by the EU for how it collects data and whether its practices create barriers to entry or damage competitors.

One of the companies that signed the letter has also filed a 67-page complaint to the commission, fleshing out the accusations further. The company, which asked not to be named, claimed that Google is granting its own service “for free” the sort of display space that it charges other holiday search engines for. It alleged that Google’s own service is also not bound by the same page ranking criteria that it applies to others.

According to the complaint, such behaviour is anti-competitive, risks killing off rivals, deters new companies from entering the market and will ultimately lead to higher prices to consumers.

Thomas Höppner, a lawyer at Hausfeld advising three companies against Google before the European General Court in Luxembourg this week, said the new complaint would put pressure on EU regulators to “prevent platforms from abusing their gatekeeper position to favour their own services and restrict competition”.

Google said: “People trust Google to give them relevant and trusted information from a diverse range of sources. That’s why our search results are designed to provide the most relevant information for your query, and the better the results we can provide, the more qualified leads we’re able to send to our partners.

“We’re currently testing a new format for specialist searches in Europe including jobs, local and travel where people might see a carousel of links to direct sites across the top of the search results. This is designed to demonstrate the range of results available.”

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