The Competition Commission of India (CCI), India's antitrust body, has opened a new probe into Google's alleged "abuse of dominance in news aggregation" after a complaint was filed by the Digital News Producers Association (DNPA), which promotes and protects the interests of digital news publishers.
According to the association, online search engines account for more than half of all traffic to news websites, with Google claiming to be the most popular search engine.
It also stated that Google accounts for 50 per cent of all traffic to news websites and as the leading player in the market, it controls which news websites are discovered via search using its algorithms.
As per DNPA, its members have always strived to offer accurate and fact-checked news, which is the backbone of any democracy, but there have been severe interruptions with the development of digital news media and the coronavirus epidemic.
According to the complainant, news media organisations provide the environment for audiences to interact with advertisers, yet online search engines such as Google end up leveraging revenue and returns far more than publishers.
It has been claimed that Google not only has a monopolistic position in India when it comes to search, but it also has a dominant position in advertising intermediation, with the majority of the market share at each level.
Additionally, the association also claimed that the American tech company is a big player in the digital advertising industry and that it decides on its own the amount to be paid to publishers for the content they create, as well as the rules under which the amount must be paid.
Moreover, the association explained that there is a lack of transparency in online digital advertising intermediation services, making it difficult for publishers to audit and verify ad revenue produced on their websites.
Alphabet Inc, Google LLC, Google India Private Ltd, and Google Ireland Ltd were included in the complaint filed by DNPA.
However, in this case, CCI stated: “In a well-functioning democracy, the critical role played by news media cannot be undermined, and it needs to be ensured that digital gatekeeper firms do not abuse their dominant position to harm the competitive process of determining a fair distribution of revenue amongst all stakeholders.”
The CCI also said that it believes Google has breached Section 4 of the Competition Act of 2002, which deals with misuse of dominant position. It noted that “no doubt, Google, being the gateway, generates substantial traffic for news publishers” but at the same time, the informant's allegations of a bargaining power imbalance and denial of a fair portion of advertising revenue deserve further scrutiny.
According to the regulator, Google should be investigated to see if it imposes any unfair terms or prices on different news producers.
CCI elaborated while saying that Google has been requested in France and Australia to enter into good faith negotiations with news publishers for paid content licencing to rectify the two parties' bargaining power imbalance and the subsequent imposition of unfair conditions by the tech giant.
The regulator's investigation arm, the director-general (DG), has been asked to launch a probe into the situation and provide a report within 60 days.
"Nothing stated in this order shall be tantamount to a final expression of opinion on the merits of the case, and the DG shall conduct the investigation without being swayed in any manner whatsoever by the observations made herein," it added.
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