Yelp recently filed a private antitrust complaint against Google with the European Commission (EC). Now it’s trying to appeal to Google’s own employees to agitate for change from within.
In some ways, it’s a naïve maneuver; in other ways, it’s quite shrewd. Watch the “Focus on the User” video below, which makes several points:
- Google is an essential tool to organize and access online information.
- It is not applying its own algorithm to its local content.
- The health of the internet economy depends on Google not exempting its own content from the algorithm.
- Making Google’s local content compete with third-party content in the OneBox is an antitrust solution.
- Google employees should advocate for this internally.
Yelp is unlikely to motivate many Google employees to “take action,” although recently, a number of Google employees resigned in protest of a Google Defense Department contract. Internal sources at Google suggest the video is not being discussed and is not likely to have much of an impact — though it is having a PR effect (as this and other articles demonstrate).
Focus on the User is a Yelp-led consortium of companies that are lobbying the EU around Google antitrust issues. Yelp’s complaint to the EC, which is not public, contains a variety of arguments, including:
- Outside of a couple of categories, the local search ecosystem in Europe is stunted and of lower quality because of Google’s aggressive moves into local.
- Consumers are ultimately harmed because they have fewer options and choices and have few “serious alternatives” to Google in most local categories.
- Reviews on Google is lower (than Yelp), which harms consumers.
- More competition would remedy these weaknesses.
These arguments will be at least somewhat persuasive to the EC, whose antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, believes Google has abused its position. This is something she unequivocally said in the “60 Minutes” piece that aired this past weekend.
Accordingly, a new Statement of Objections (formal antitrust complaint) from the EC has a better than 50 percent chance of being filed, in my option. The logic of that complaint would be similar, if not identical, to the comparison-shopping complaint that resulted in a roughly $2.7 billion penalty, which Google is currently appealing.
Google offered the following statement in response to my request for comment on the video:
We do not make changes to our algorithm to disadvantage competitors. Our responsibility is to deliver the best results possible to our users, not specific placements for sites within our results. We understand that those sites whose ranking falls will be unhappy and may complain publicly.