Google and the European Union are still battling it out over various product-bundling schemes across Google’s empire. The latest news has to do with Google Shopping’s integration with Google Search. In 2017, the EU ruled that Google Shopping’s integration with Search was a violation of antitrust laws. Today, Google lost its appeal, and the court held up the €2.4 billion ($2.8 billion) fine. Google can still appeal the ruling one more time, but this time, the company would go before the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the highest court in the EU.
As in many other antitrust lawsuits that Google is facing around the world, EU regulators took issue with Google artificially promoting its own services over the competition on the search results page. Google Maps, Google Shopping, and Google Flights all automatically get premium spots above the organic search results.
Google’s verticals provide Google Search results with rich, often helpful content that goes above and beyond the standard “10 blue links” interface, but there’s no reason non-Google services can’t also provide this data. Google often says that regulation will remove these rich results from search, but it has a whole “structured data format” that allows for rich results from non-Google sites, so the claim doesn’t add up. Google regularly shows rich-result content from third-party sites today; it’s just not pinned to the top of the page.
Google Shopping is a different beast from Google’s other services. From 2012 to 2020, it was exclusively a vector for ads. Rather than an organic list of shopping-oriented search results, every listing was something a product seller had paid for. Google dropped the “paid listing only” policy in April 2020, and if you scroll down on the site now, you will see some organic (and free) listings. Unlike Google Search, Shopping still isn’t an indexed service where Google crawls the entire Internet looking for information. Instead, sellers have to sign up for a “Google Merchant Center account” and will need to send Google a structured feed of product data.
The origins of the Google Search/Google Shopping complaint go back to 2009, and today’s ruling might not even be the final judgment if Google chooses to appeal again. Google is still facing other EU antitrust cases related to AdSense and Android, and the EU is running additional investigations into Google’s ad business.